The popularity of Vodka in the United States can be accredited to Smirnoff’s marketing slogan, “no smell, no taste.” This begs the question – what does vodka taste like?
The Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) defined Vodka as “neutral spirits so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or colour.”
That might lead one to think that vodka has no taste. It is, however, not as simple as that.
The Taste of Vodka
In April 2020, the bureau dropped the definition, acknowledging what most discerning Vodka drinkers have always known.
All Vodkas have their distinctive character and taste depending on the base ingredients, distillation techniques, filtering, and strength (proof).
Although Vodka is regarded as a spirit with no distinct taste, the flavor is subtle. By tasting a variety of Vodka and paying attention to what you are tasting, you will begin to pick up the differences.
The texture on the tongue, known as the mouthfeel, will reveal a subtle difference in the numerous styles and qualities of Vodka available.
For example, some Vodka, such as Absolut, has an oily, silky texture, while others, like Stolichnaya, are watery with a somewhat medicinal finish.
The term “heat of Vodka” refers to the burning experienced on the tongue or the back of your throat when you drink it straight.
Heat often indicates the Vodka’s smoothness and the care taken by the distiller in creating a clean vodka.
Factors that Affect the Taste of Vodka
Vodka is a clear, distilled spirit made from grains or potatoes. It is traditionally known as a spirit from Russia and Poland.
The United States, Canada, and European countries such as Sweden also manufacture Vodka, making a substantial contribution to the global spirit and liquor market.
Base Ingredients Used and Process of Distillation to produce Vodka
The standard method of making Vodka is fermenting and distilling grain, potatoes, or grapes. The most common grains are corn, wheat, or rye.
To make a fermentable base, the distiller will mix the grain with yeast and water forming a vodka mash that is stored for one to two weeks until fully fermented, producing ethyl alcohol.
Once fermentation is complete, the distiller will separate the solids from the liquid (ethyl alcohol) and use the alcohol to make Vodka through the distillation process.
Distilling is a process that purifies a liquid by heating it. The vapor produced is collected as it condenses. The result is a more alcoholic and purer product as the “head,” and “tail” are separated, leaving only the more refined “heart” of the liquid.
Vodka makers all take different approaches to distillation. Some only distill once or twice, whereas others will look at distillation three to five times to achieve the pure result required.
Flavoured Vodka may include the addition of botanicals steeped in ethyl alcohol before or between distilling.
Once they have identified the “heart” of the final distillation, many Vodka makers will pass the product through a charcoal or carbon filtration system to remove any impurities, ensuring the final product has a great clean mouthfeel.
To achieve the required alcohol content, the distillers dilute the Vodka by gradually adding purified water and testing the alcohol by volume (ABV) to attain the desired strength.
Water comprises between 60 to 70% of a bottle of Vodka and thus is bound to affect the flavor.
Water plays an intricate role in the production of Vodka, from the initial formation of the Vodka mash through to the final dilution to achieve the desired alcohol content (ABV).
Distilleries require a plentiful water supply with the purest water available, which is why many of the best distilleries use water supplied by artesian wells or natural springs with soft water, low or free of salts, ions, and other impurities.
If impurities exist in the water used, modern water purification technology allows Vodka producers to demineralize water using reverse osmosis to produce pure, tasteless water that will not negatively affect the finished product’s flavor.
Alcohol Strength of Vodka
Typically, Vodka has an alcohol content of around 40% ABV (80 proof). Higher proof Vodka with 50% ABV or more was usually the domain of countries known as the Vodka Belt; however, there are now many 80-proof offerings from Vodka giants like Absolute 100 and Smirnoff 90 available.
Plain Vodka, generally at 40% ABV, can have a taste varying from; a) smooth, with a clean mouthful for the quality, higher-priced Vodka, to b) a bitter aftertaste that burns the throat, for the low-quality Vodka.
High Proof Vodka would taste much more intense and packs a much bigger punch. Today bartenders are finding that higher-proof spirits like Vodka excite and intensify the flavors of the ingredients they’re putting into cocktails.
Flavoured Vodka is becoming increasingly popular. Some flavored Vodkas are produced using the infusion method of steeping fresh fruit and herbs in the ethyl alcohol during the distilling process.
Many Vodkas add natural or artificial flavor extracts to the Vodka. As a result, flavored Vodka will have the flavor it is made of, for example, orange with an extra kick.
However, the added flavor will affect the alcohol content, reducing it to around 35% ABV to focus more on the taste.
How to Drink Vodka
Due to its reasonably neutral taste and versatility, Vodka can be enjoyed on its own or mixed with several flavors to create exciting and iconic cocktails.
Choosing a Vodka to Enjoy Straight
Vodka enthusiasts believe that drinking Vodka straight is the only way to enjoy the beverage describing a good vodka as creamy and smooth with a grainy aroma and having a thick texture if very cold or frozen.
A lower-quality Vodka will be bitter tasting, watery, smell like medicine, and tend to burn your throat.
Opt for the more popular brands, such as Grey Goose, Absolut, Smirnoff, Titos, Ketel One, and Stolichnaya, if you are unsure about picking a vodka to enjoy straight.
How to Drink Straight Vodka
- A popular way to drink Vodka is as a shot from a shot glass at room temperature. However, premium-quality Vodkas are best sipped slowly from a tumbler.
- Chilled Vodka has less of a bite and a slightly thicker texture. You can chill the Vodka by placing the bottle in the freezer to get it to ice cold or by adding a few ice cubes in a tumbler with the Vodka.
- Due to the strength of Vodka, Russians usually serve their Vodka alongside appetizers called “zakuski.” Tasting appetizers between sips of Vodka will help counter the taste and balance the potency of plain Vodka.
Flavoured Vodka has revolutionized the Vodka market, giving people a more enjoyable way to drink Vodka.
Having a vodka flavored with a fruity, floral, or herbal taste is a refreshing way to spice up your Vodka while still reasonably strong at 35 ABV.
Flavored Vodkas are infused with the required flavor, such as strawberry, lemon, or orange, to create a unique blend of Vodka.
Infused Vodka includes the addition of botanicals such as fruits or herbs steeped in ethyl alcohol before or between distilling producing a very natural flavor.
Flavored Vodkas are created by adding a natural or synthetic flavors to the Vodka.
Cocktails Made with Vodka
You can use Vodka in a variety of Cocktail recipes. Listed below are recipes for some Classic Vodka recipes:
- Screwdriver – Mix 1- 1/2 ounces of plain Vodka with 6 ounces of orange juice, add a few ice cubes and stir.
- Cosmopolitan – Add 2 ounces of Vodka and 1 ounce of cranberry juice, Cointreau, and lime juice. Shake well with cracked ice. Frost the rim with sugar and garnish with a lime peel.
- Bloody Mary – Mix 1 ounce of plain Vodka with 3 ounces of tomato juice, ½ ounce of lemon juice, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a few shakes of Tabasco, stir and add a few cubes of ice. Garnish with a celery stick.
- Sex on the Beach – Mix 1-1/2 ounce of plain Vodka with 2 ounces of orange juice, 2 ounces of cranberry juice, and ½ ounce of Peach Schnapps. Fill the glass with ice, stir and garnish with an orange slice.
- Vodka Martini – Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice cubes and add 2-3 ounces of plain Vodka with 1 ounce of dry vermouth. Shake well and pour into a Martini glass. Garnish with three olives on a cocktail stick. Remember the famous James Bond quote – “Shaken, not stirred.”
- Moscow Mule – Pour 1-1/2 ounces of plain Vodka, ½ ounce of lime juice, and half a cup of ginger beer into a mug. Add a few ice cubes. Stir to combine and add a lime wedge to garnish. The classic Moscow Mule is served in a copper mug.
These are all popular cocktails enjoyed worldwide.
What Does Vodka Taste Like? – Conclusion
There are many ways to enjoy Vodka; whether you sip it straight, pair it with food, use it in cocktails or have it as a flavored Vodka, the choice is yours.
If Vodka is not your choice, so be it, but for those interested in expanding your drinking experience, this article may be of value to you.