One of the world’s most popular spirits, Vodka is enjoyed around the globe thanks, in no small part, to its versatility in myriad mixed drinks. Due to its typically neutral flavour and colourless appearance, Vodka is often drunk in the West as a means of adding spirit to cocktails and tall drinks. However, thanks to the attention-to-detail to be found in craft Vodkas, as well as the increased interest in premium spirits, a variety of flavoursome sipping Vodkas can now be found easily, offering connoisseurs a great choice from many different countries, made in many different styles.
The origins of vodka are hotly debated, though most tend to agree that it was first made in Poland or Russia. The earliest record of the term was found in a set of Polish court documents dating back to 1405, listing it alongside cosmetics and medicines. Similarly, in Russia there are ancient records of early pharmaceutical lists referring to “vodka of bread wine”.
The term “vodka” actually comes from the Slavic word for water. In this regard vodka has markedly similar roots to a variety of other spirits from around the world. The Gaelic term “uisge beatha” (from which we get “whisky), the Latin “aqua vitae” (from which we get the Scandinavian akvavit), and French eau-de-vie all translate as “water of life”. It would appear, then, that the ancient fascination with the elixir of life resulted in the creation of a number of our favourite tipples today.
Before the 1950s, vodka was only really popular in Europe, and Eastern Europe particularly. A surge in popularity meant that by 1975, sales of vodka in America had far surpassed those of the country’s traditional spirit, bourbon.
Today, vodka companies tend to flaunt their products as being the purest, thanks to numerous distillations and filtrations (examples include Smirnoff and Russian Standard). However, it is worth considering the more flavoursome and complex vodkas and the best place to start is by looking at the base ingredient.
Almost anything can be used to distil vodka, from cereal grains such as rye, wheat and barley, to potatoes, grapes and even molasses. However, the ingredient used tends to vary by country.
For example, in Poland, vodkas are often made from rye or potatoes. Potato vodkas are creamy, buttery and grainy. Polish examples include Chopin and Luksusowa, and there is even an English brand named Chase which distils excellent potato vodka in Herefordshire. Rye vodkas such as Wyborowa and Belvedere offer up flavours of bread-like sweetness and spice.
In Russia and Scandinavia, cereal grains such as barley and wheat are often used in vodka production. Sweden’s Absolut vodka is a tasty wheat vodka which offers up notes of spice and aniseed. In Finland, the barley vodka Finlandia is a nutty, spicy spirit which works beautifully in cocktails.
For a more unusual choice of base ingredient, Ciroc - made in France - is distilled form grapes and is fruity and rounded in flavour.
Thanks to the use of high quality flavouring ingredients, there is also a great number of flavoured vodkas made with anything from fruits to spices. These can be used to make many delicious mixed drinks. We recommend trying the fruity, delicious Davna Cherry Vodka for a supreme example, as well as flavoured vodka from the English Vodka Company. For something a little more intense, Absolut Peppar is a great pepper-flavoured vodka. Or, if you’re feeling particularly brave, you could even have a taste of an astonishingly hot chilli vodka from The ‘Hot Enough’ Vodka Company.