Vodka Facts for Bartenders

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Vodka Facts for Bartenders

Vodka Facts for Bartenders

Any bartender will tell you that the most popular spirit amongst the swilling crowd is undoubtedly vodka. This gift from Eastern Europe is extremely versatile, and is enjoyed in cocktails as diverse as Bloody Marys and Moscow Mules. The best brands come from Russia, Poland and Sweden, but recently, Canada and France have jumped on the voddie bandwagon, producing some very impressive variations. Here are some more vodka facts for bartenders.

Origin and History

The word “vodka” is derived from the Slavic term for “little water.” In fact, when it was first recorded in a Polish manuscript in 1405, it was called “aquavit,” meaning “water of life.” It was initially used as a medicinal treatment for a variety of ailments in Medieval Poland, until it arrived on the scene in Moscow and became Russia’s national recreational drink. In Sweden, early forms of vodka were referred to as “brannvin,” or “burn-wine.” This, as we can see, refers to the satisfying burn one gets after a shot of the crisp, clean spirit.

How is Vodka Made?

Today, vodka is made from a variety of substances. In fact, it can be distilled from any fermented sugar or starch matter. The most common sources of vodka are corn, rye, wheat and sorghum. It is also made from that most traditional of foodstuffs, the Russian potato. Molasses, soybeans and grapes can also be fermented for vodka.

All vodkas are fermented, filtered and then distilled. Some varieties are extensively filtered through activated charcoal in order to strain through impurities that may affect the taste balance of the drink.  Others, however, are filtered less as some natural substances provide unique and intriguing complexities in flavour. Distillation is the essential process that produces the characteristically clean palate that most vodka boasts. It removes what is known in the trade as the “fore-shots,” “heads” and “tails” of the liquid. These are the components include ethyl acetate and lactate, and are known for interfering with the clarity of the vodka.

After the distillation process, some vodka varietals are bottled in clear form. Others are flavoured. This process gives rise to a range of exciting possibilities, as demonstrated in the brand Absolut’s plethora of fruit, vanilla and chocolate-flavoured variations. Traditional flavourings include red pepper, ginger and honey. “Pertsovka” is Russian vodka varietal with natural honey and pepper flavourings. Some Polish and Belarusian vodkas are flavoured with local bison leaves, called “zubrovka.” Lithuania is famous for a honeyed vodka variation called “krupnik.”

Famous Vodka Brands

The world’s best vodka brands tend to be fermented from wheat or rye. Grey Goose, for example, is a French brand of vodka that is known as one of the smoothest in the world. It is clean enough to be enjoyed neat, or in a vodka martini. Crystal Head is a new, Canadian brand that features one of the most distinctive bottles on the market –a transparent crystal skull. Stolichnaya is the top Russian brand, made from rye grain and wheat. No list of vodka brands is complete without Sweden’s Absolut, which is noted not only for its wide variety of flavours, but also for its distinguishing marketing style.

No knowledge of vodka is complete without a list of defining vodka cocktails. Some of the most popular vodka cocktails include the White Russian, the timeless Bloody Mary, the classic vodka martini and the refreshing Moscow Mule.