Vodka originates in parts of Eastern Europe, such as Russia and Poland. In fact, many traditional vodka-producing regions still make their vodka using methods that originate in the 13th to 15th century.
Vodka can be made out of almost any grain, from barley to rye to wheat. Some higher-end brands, such as Grey Goose, promote an entirely wheat based Vodka, claiming it provides a better flavour.
Vodka has been described as spicy, bready and briny, however, it overall has a very neutral flavor, making it a great base alcohol for flavorful cocktails.
Vodka has officially been classified as a tasteless spirit. Does this mean that there is no difference between all vodka on the market, no matter the price?
Nope! In actuality, vodka has depth and flavor, as well as other factors that contribute to its consumption as a whole. Let’s look at the differences between cheap and expensive vodka, and why you should always choose your vodka with care.
1. Production and Ingredients
Studies have shown that a difference in the grain used from vodka to vodka can make a large difference. When making vodka, the difference in flavor that results from using either rye or wheat is minimal; the vodka is still almost pure ethanol, no matter the grain used.
However, tests ran on cheaper, rye-based vodkas found a larger amount of contaminants in comparison to more high-end, wheat-based vodkas.
Cheaper vodka brands also tend to make their vodka with lower quality substitutes, such as sugar beets. More expensive vodka is produced to have the perfect balance of starch and protein, resulting in a smoother, balanced flavor.
Additionally, is vodka better when distilled more times? Some more expensive vodka brands promote a single distillation method, in order to preserve flavor whilst effectively removing impurities.
However, there is evidence that the more distillation steps in a vodkas production, the higher quality of vodka produced, as repeated distillation can remove carbonyl compounds that can contribute to unpleasant aromas.
2. Flavor and mouthfeel
Remember that burning sensation you get at the back of your throat after a shot of vodka? That is a defining characteristic of a cheap vodka. Cheaper vodkas provide a less pleasant drinking experience; from the unpleasantly bitter, mouth-puckering flavor, to a terrible headache the next morning.
Expensive vodka does not do this. Higher-end vodka feels smoother in the mouth, and sweeter on the tongue. You wont get that burning after taste, providing a much more enjoyable consumption.
Cheaper vodka can often seem quite watery; this comes from the interaction between the alcohol and water on a molecular level. You may notice a much more pleasant texture from more expensive vodkas.
This texture is best described as smooth and silky, making for an overall pleasant mouthfeel in comparison to the watery texture of cheap vodkas.
Although many differences between cheap and expensive vodka can be extremely legitimate, a lot of it does simply come down to marketing and salesmanship.
The past decade, the concept of “super-premium vodkas” has been on the rise, promoting a differentiation between cheaper and more expensive vodkas. These “super-premium vodkas” claim to be healthier, contain less impurities, and have a noticeably nicer taste.
However, a study conducted in 2020 revealed that the differences between various brands of vodka are actually negligible, leading to the question: how much does branding and marketing contribute to the differences between cheap and expensive vodka?
4. Your turn to try
Next time you’re drinking vodka, whether it be Smirnoff or Grey Goose, look out for any differences between them. Do they smell any different? Is one more pleasant in the mouth, than the other is? What does it feel like going down? Do you feel that burning sensation? Do you feel hungover in the morning?
In all, there are many differences between cheap and expensive vodka, however, depending on the person, these differences can be ignored.
Cheap vs. expensive vodka isn't the difference between night and day, so drink whichever vodka suits your preferences and price point. However, if you can, lean towards a vodka of higher quality for a better drinking experience.
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