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Vodkas

Production

  • Today, the word "vodka" has come to mean a pure spirit with little, if any, aroma, color, or flavor distilled from any of a number of initial ingredients. The U.S. government defines it simply as "A neutral spirit without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color," while the E.U. definition notes that it is:
    "... a spirit drink produced by rectifying or filtering through active charcoal ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin possibly followed by straightforward distillation or an equivalent treatment… the product may give special characteristics, such as a mellow taste, by the addition of flavoring."

    However, Poland opted out of this E.U. definition; its regulations sanction only spirits and water.

    Tasting experience, however, proves both of these definitions false: different first ingredients do yield different results. The water source adds another element, as does the different filtration techniques that can be employed.



    Style
    Vodka falls into three categories; neutral, character and flavoured.
    The ‘character’ category refers to those vodkas that retain the positive characteristics of the raw ingredient chosen for distillation.

    Neutral vodkas are generally made from wheat or molasses. Wheat is light in character and therefore easy to distil to neutrality and molasses has no character (other than sweetness) to enhance.



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  • Wheat
    Nose: often notes of citrus, aniseed or liquorice. Depending on method of distillation, they may be some baked bread or yeasty notes.
    Palate: the lightest of the grains once distilled, wheat vodka tends to be fresh and light. Aniseed notes are generally the most dominant.


    Barley
    Nose: Clean and fresh with some nutty notes.
    Palate: The most savoury of grains when distilled. Slightly savoury with a dry nutty finish.


    Rye
    Nose: The most complex (and expensive) of grains. Ranges from subtle cream and vanilla notes to sharp and robust.
    Palate: Depending on where distilled, can range from soft and silky with subtle notes of almond and vanilla to spicy, notes of black and white pepper, warmth on the palate with a long length.


    Corn
    Nose: Butter, corn on the cob, hot buttered popcorn.
    Palate: Sweet, oily (like having eaten too much popcorn) short length. Can be quite heavy and dense.


    Potatoes
    Nose: Earthy, mineral nose with hints of stone and/or soil. Occasional boiled potato fragrance.
    Palate: Mostly soft and gentle vodka. Some mineral notes carry onto the palate. Notes of mashed potato, creamed potato and a subtle sweetness are common characteristics. Potatoes are the most expensive of all raw ingredients.


    Molasses
    Nose: Relatively neutral nose, some antiseptic characteristics with a spirit note being most dominant.
    Palate: Sweet, one dimensional and often flat. Neutral on the palate and very often noticeable burn.

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  • Vodka is made from a number of grains including wheat, rye, barley and corn and vegetables such as potatoes and sugar beets. Wheat produces vodka with a very slightly citrus nose, while winter wheat is even more flavorful. Barley creates a clean, nutty nose. Rye gives a complex, peppery, vanilla note. Corn can produce a heavy, buttery aroma. And potatoes give an earthy, mineral note.

    In vodka production, the factors that determine the caliber of the final product include the quality of the base material, the water and the equipment used, and the expertise of the master distiller.

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  • In order to make vodka from grains and vegetables, the starch must first be converted into sugar, which is then fermented and finally distilled.

    First, the grain or potatoes are cooked and a small amount of malt or enzymes is added to convert the starch to sugar. Once the conversion has taken place, yeast is added to produce the wash, which is then distilled.

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  • Once this initial fermentation has been performed, the spirit is then purified or rectified by re-distilling it a number of times to remove impurities. The balance between purity and character gives vodka its precision, finesse and elegance. Insufficient purity can lead to a harsh spirit, whereas overly purified spirits lose all character. After each distillation, the spirit is cut with water and re-distilled. The essence of the master distiller's art is to balance purity and character.

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  • Vodka is commonly filtered many times, often utilizing several different types of filters: kieselguhr, or diatomaceous/silica soil, plate and frame, membrane, and charcoal. After filtering, the spirit is blended and cut with water to achieve its selling strength. This addition of water is crucial, because it alters the final character of the vodka. And finally, in the best distilleries, the vodka is allowed to rest before bottling.

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