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cowdery
04-30-2003, 12:15
The "Pet Peeves" thread has taken a turn toward vodka, so I thought I would give it a thread of its own. As noted, most vodka is made from grain and although there are a few potato vodkas out there, mostly from Poland, the vast majority of the vodka consumed is from grain. The potato brands are not big sellers.

Most domestic vodka is made from corn. Imports may contain some percentage of wheat or rye, but corn is pretty popular there too. Although market prices can vary, corn is generally the cheapest grain in terms or its alcohol yield.

Most domestic vodka is made in one plant in Iowa and shipped by tanker to various bottlers. Some imports are actually buying this U.S. grain neutal spirit (GNS), diluting it with their water and selling it here as an import. I can't necessarily say which ones because it varies. The international GNS trade is a little like the oil trade. It's a commodity. You don't necessarily know where it originates.

GNS typically leaves the still at 195 proof. In other words, it is as much pure alcohol as it is practical to make it. Alcohol is alcohol. All alcohol (that is, all ethyl alcohol) is the same. It has no taste except the "taste" of alcohol.

I have been told that some imported vodkas distill out at less than 195 proof, which means there could, conceivably, be some taste difference in the final distillates.

However, no vodka is sold at 195 proof. Naturally, it is most efficient to ship the bulk GNS at its maximum proof and to dilute it to its sale proof at the point of packaging. Here again, a lot of domestic vodkas are exactly the same because the same company is bottling them and using the same water to dilute them. Heaven Hill, for example, "makes" a number of vodkas, for themselves and other marketers. I put "makes" in quotes because all they do is pump it from the tanker into a tank, dilute it with water to the apppropriate proof, and bottle it.

The point is that the extent to which one can taste the difference between one vodka and another is because there are differences in the water used to dilute it from 195 proof down to 100 or 80 or whatever it's sold at. In other words, the most expensive bottled water in the world is the water component of imported vodka. The only caveat to that would be those vodkas that are distilled out at less than 195 proof which may retain some flavor in the distillate, but no one can tell you which ones those are.

bluesbassdad
04-30-2003, 12:44
Chuck,

Thanks for the info. Now I know that the whole vodka biz is an even bigger scam than I've always suspected.

Do you know anything about the composition of the 2.5% of 195 proof vodka that isn't alcohol? Could it be that it contains some flavor components?

Yours truly,
Dave Morefield

Gillman
04-30-2003, 16:59
Excellent points all. I choose vodka, generally, not by brand or price but by the advertised number of distillations (i.e., fewest possible). I find those that are triple and quadruple-distilled tend to be bland. The double-distilled brands seem to be much better but so are some triple-distilled vodkas. Thus, Zytnia, a Polish rye-based vodka, is tasty albeit thrice put through the still. I think I can detect some rye tangs. In the 1800's, Monongahela rye whiskey was usually white whiskey (little-aged). I'd like to think there is some connection between that old Mon whiskey and some of the tastier modern vodkas including especially the modern rye vodkas. Clearly, modern distillation will bring the spirit off at a higher proof (thus, cleaner taste) than in the 1800's but still I think there is a connection between the old and new white spirits. Maybe this explains the (otherwise startling) uptick of Russian vodka in America from the 1940's until today. In other words, aged whiskey, while ostensibly better, was not (in the end) acceptable to much of the drinking public and when the old "white lightning" came back in the form of Russkie vodka the folk memory was jolted. People turned again to the white liquor their ancestors (mostly) knew.

Cy

CL
04-30-2003, 18:16
I never cared much for vodka, hence, I never knew much about it. Thanks, though, for the very enlightening post. I enjoyed it.

robbyvirus
04-30-2003, 21:26
</font><blockquote><font class="small">In reply to:</font><hr />
Do you know anything about the composition of the 2.5% of 195 proof vodka that isn't alcohol? Could it be that it contains some flavor components?

[/QUOTE]

From chemistry in college, I remember that when alcohol is distilled, a little bit of water comes along with it, due to the incredible solubility of water in alcohol (and vice versa). Thus "pure" distilled alcohol is about 98% alcohol and 2% water. It is possible to make 100% alcohol, but not through a standard distillation process.

Gillman
05-01-2003, 04:58
Just to continue a bit, my thoughts on what the 1800's white rye whiskey was like lead also to the Dutch and Flemish style of spirits known as "genever", geneva gin or Hollands. Everyone knowns Dutch gin is a pungent concoction that is the antecedent to the later, more elegant style that developed in England called London Dry Gin. How can geneva therefore be related to American rye whiskey? In fact the relationship is a close one. In his 1875 distilling text, F. Byrn, writing in Philadelphia, PA gave a recipe for grain whiskey as distilled from a mash of 80% rye grist (i.e., raw grain) and 20% barley malt. The barley malt would saccharify the starch in the rye. (Byrn said this approach was preferable (in terms of yield of alcohol, his primary concern) to using malted rye for the unmalted, which is interesting). In discussing European distilling in Northern Europe (globalisation is not new) Byrn states that geneva gin also was made traditionally from the same mash of 80/20 rye to barley. (Just as in America and England, cheaper spirit was coming on stream from mixed grains or molasses but he was giving the traditional recipe). He said often the genever-makers added juniper berries to the liquor to mask off-flavours in the spirit. Likely these flavours resulted not from the use of rye as the main grain but from lower distillation proofs than today and less sophisticated ways to get the congeners and other "impurities" out of the liquor. (Americans were using charcoal leaching and other methods and were starting to see, ditto the Scots, that long barrel aging would oxidise the congeners and other flavour impurities). Byrn said that juniper was not always used, though, sometimes it was replaced by coriander or anise (think Rock and Rye) and other times flavouring was simply omitted. To this day in the Flemish regions of Europe geneva gin is made that still uses the standard Monongahela recipe of 80%/20% rye to barley malt. Some is unflavoured or only very little flavoured with juniper. I corresponded with a venerable French house in the far northern belt (near Belgium) called Loos/Wambrechies (note Flemish spellings) that assured me their geneva gin uses the 80/20 rye/barley malt recipe and the rye portion is unmalted. They use juniper but relatively little, a few pounds to a few thousand litres of spirit I understand. Some other makers, e.g. Filliers in Belgium, use no juniper whatever in their rye-based spirit. I aim to get my hands on some young Filliers one day. I have enjoyed their aged product, which indeed resembles modern rye to a degree (e.g. Old Overholt's and some Canadian ryes) but I feel their white spirit (most geneva makers offer a young unaged product in their line-up) would most closely resemble the everyday versions of rye whiskey known up and down the Monongahela river in the 1800's.

It is interesting that young corn liquor has survived to this day, the white lightning or white dog that is the commercial version of moonshine whereas young rye whiskey died out completely (Michter's made a white "quarter whiskey" in the 1970's that might have been a Mon river-type rye). No doubt the taste of young rye whiskey was quite pungent and most people ultimately turned away from it as they did even from the aged article, ie. as a widely consumed product, since fine aged rye as we know has made something of a comeback.

In North America today, the youngest whisky made by Alberta Distillers (which uses a mostly all-rye recipe), the Polish rye vodkas and the Fritz Maytag whiskeys may be the closest readily available equivalents to 1800's young rye spirit. Probably that original rye was more pungent than today's versions (although Maytag's whiskeys offer a good tang that may be close to the original rye).

Linking rye whiskey to Northern Europe is not really a stretch because rye historians note that German-Americans were distilling rye in Pennsylvania in the Revolutionary era. Allied to the distilling practices of the Scots-Irish (Ulster Scottish immigrants to America), that gave rise to American rye whiskey, antecedent of course to Bourbon. This is why Byrn looked back to what was happening in Northern Europe, he knew the distilling of rye whether in America or Europe was part ultimately of the same tradition, and I would say vodka is too. Vodka was made from a more diverse range of starches and further afield of course than the hinterland of geneva gin but is part (as is Scotch whiskey) of the northern European, grain-based distilling heritage that transplanted to our shores.

Cy

tdelling
05-01-2003, 08:52
Great post! Very informative!

&gt;In his 1875 distilling text, F. Byrn, writing in Philadelphia, PA gave a recipe for
&gt;grain whiskey as distilled from a mash of 80% rye grist (i.e., raw grain) and
&gt;20% barley malt. The barley malt would saccharify the starch in the rye. (Byrn
&gt;said this approach was preferable (in terms of yield of alcohol, his primary
&gt;concern) to using malted rye for the unmalted, which is interesting).

My guess is that the growing rye endosperm uses up some of the sugar
during malting, thereby reducing total yield. I suppose it's also a matter
of how good a maltster you are. There's an interesting article at
http://www.brewingtechniques.com/library/backissues/issue1.3/hayden.html
about using rye... apparently barley malt has slightly more diastatic power
than rye malt. Also of intereest from the article is:

"
Rye malt adds a distinct flavor to the brew. Malting modifies the rye grain in a way that eliminates some of the unwanted effects that are present when using unmalted rye. According to the authors of a study published in Crop Science, "Such a qualitative modification apparently cannot be accomplished by enzymes from the malted barley when they act on unmalted rye"
"


I wonder where the 80/20 ratio came from? Bourbons use less than 20%
malted barley.

&gt;...rye historians note that German-Americans were distilling rye in Pennsylvania
&gt;in the Revolutionary era. Allied to the distilling practices of the Scots-Irish...

It is my understanding that choice of grain for distilling was dependent mostly
on what grew well in the area. Barley grew poorly, but rye grew well in
Pennsylvania, and likewise, corn was the best grower in Kentucky.

&gt;No doubt the taste of young rye whiskey was quite pungent and most people
&gt;ultimately turned away from it as they did even from the aged article...

Someone once told me that it was Prohibition that killed rye, in two ways.
First, the rye distillers never went back into business after Prohibition,
and second, cheap Canadian rye had given rye a bad name. Can anyone
corroborate this?


Tim Dellinger

cowdery
05-01-2003, 12:51
Russia and the other slavic countries, Germany and the Scandinavian countries do have a slightly different distilled spirits tradition than France and the UK, although everyone has some "white spirits" tradition. The difference is that in France and the UK, they use barrel aging to improve the flavor, while in those other countries they use higher proof distillation and the addition of flavorings. Actually, that tradition exists in France (e.g., absinthe) and the Netherlands/UK (e.g., gin) alongside the aging-in-wood tradition. The flavoring of vodka/GNS is not a new phenomenon. Two familiar examples are the German Schnapps, which uses various flavorings, and the Scandinavian Akvavit, which traditionally uses caraway seeds.

cowdery
05-01-2003, 13:00
Great stuff, Cy. Really enjoyed it.

Mike Veach and others have often made the point that too much emphasis is placed on the Scots-Irish origins of the American distilling tradition and too little is placed on the German contribution. Few remember that the Beams were actually Germans (Boehm). The German tradition contributes rye distillation (the Scots-Irish used barley almost exclusively) and the emphasis on creating a potable spirit without long aging, through flavoring and other means.

cowdery
05-01-2003, 13:27
</font><blockquote><font class="small">In reply to:</font><hr />
Someone once told me that it was Prohibition that killed rye, in two ways.
First, the rye distillers never went back into business after Prohibition,
and second, cheap Canadian rye had given rye a bad name. Can anyone
corroborate this?


[/QUOTE]

The first is a by-product of the second, which I have heard a little differently. It wasn't the Canadian product that was the problem. Its quality was adequate to good. The problem was with "bathtub" products, concoctions using crudely distilled spirits and flavorings that were typically misrepresented as something finer than they were. Since at that time the epitome of good whiskey was old rye, that's what the sellers said their product was. It was so bad that it gave rye a bad name and there was no real rye around to counter the literal "bad taste in their mouths." Some rye distillers did come back after Prohibition, but they found that the demand for their product just wasn't there. Bourbon was less tainted because it hadn't been that widely popular before Prohibition, at least not in the big cities where the "bad (fake) rye" problem was worst.

The exact same thing happened to Irish whiskey. Before Prohibition, Irish was the most popular import (especially among the Irish immigrant communities of Boston and New York) and Scotch was vritually unknown. After drinking "bad (fake) Irish" for 13 years, people wanted none of it after the drought and Irish sales in the U.S. never really recovered. However, the industry didn't die because it still had its domestic market.

Also at play was the fact that American drinkers had developed a taste for lighter whiskies, after drinking Canadian and Scotch during Prohibition. Bourbon suited that taste preference better than rye.

cowdery
05-01-2003, 13:29
</font><blockquote><font class="small">In reply to:</font><hr />
Do you know anything about the composition of the 2.5% of 195 proof vodka that isn't alcohol? Could it be that it contains some flavor components?


[/QUOTE] Yes, but that's exactly the point. At 2.5%, it's too miniscule to really taste.

pepcycle
05-01-2003, 14:46
Alchohol and water form a tertiary azeotrope. (Look that up in your chemistry book) This is a physical characteristic of the mixture and is dependent on the phase conversion from liquid to vapor and back. To break the azeotrope and distill pure alchohol a third compound can be added. I think you can use benzene, but that makes for a potentially unhealthy outcome. Absolute alchohol is produced by this method for medical use and is pretty strictly controlled by the feds.
The difference between 95% and 100% ethanol in flavor cannot be detected because either will immediately denature proteins (Taste buds)
Once diluted, the diluent contributes more flavor than anything else and that's the water.

Gillman
05-01-2003, 16:28
Thanks Tim, and to Chuck, for most valuable comments and observations.

Byrn in "Complete Practical Distiller" (1875) states at p. 76:

"... In an economical point of view rye produces the most favourable results. It might be used in the raw state, and might undergo the vinous fermentation, after having been suitably prepared and mashed; but experience has proved the necessity of adjoining to it a certain portion of malted barley. To this effect a quantity of barley is added, and then mixed to raw rye in the proportion of 20 parts barley to 80 of rye; this mixture is submitted to the operation of grinding and mashing. By this method rye produces more than any other preparation".

Cy

tdelling
05-01-2003, 17:50
I hope I'm not being rude, but a few clarafications:

&gt;Alchohol and water form a tertiary azeotrope.

Actually, it's a binary azoetrope. Binary because there are two compounds:
ethanol and water.

&gt;Absolute alchohol is produced by this method for medical use and is pretty strictly
&gt;controlled by the feds.

Absolute ethanol is also used rather commonly in organic chemistry labs.
I had always assumed that it's pretty easy to get, but that's because I've always
have a purchasing department and a legal department to take care of such things!

Other methods for making pure ethanol include oxidation of acetylene on
the large scale, and (on the small scale), using molecular sieves or sodium metal
to grab up the water. Distillation is the pretty much the cheapest method right now.

Tim

ratcheer
05-01-2003, 17:56
I have not experienced it, personally, but I recently read the Clancy novel, Red Rabbit. One part of it talked of a very high Communist (Yuri Andropov, head of KGB at the time) drinking an aged, brown vodka, Starkya (or something very close to that). Knowing what a stickler for detail Clancy is, I am confident that this is a real Russian product.

Sounds kind of like whiskey, to me.

Tim

PS - I obviously dont know how to markup the underlining of the book title in this language.

tdelling
05-01-2003, 17:57
&gt;In North America today, the youngest whisky made by Alberta Distillers (which uses a
&gt;mostly all-rye recipe), the Polish rye vodkas and the Fritz Maytag whiskeys may be the
&gt;closest readily available equivalents to 1800's young rye spirit. Probably that original
&gt;rye was more pungent than today's versions (although Maytag's whiskeys offer a
&gt;good tang that may be close to the original rye).

Do you think Manongahala Rye could be resurrected? Do you think people would
drink it? And, (hold your breath): what kind of marketing image would you go for?


I think there's quite a bit of room in American whiskies to make all kinds of
"new" products... if I ever get around to starting my own distillery, there are
five or six crazy things that I'd like to try, Manongahala Rye being one of them.

Tim

Gillman
05-01-2003, 18:10
I would market Monongahela Rye Whiskey as a revival of a once proud tradition. Maytag has taken a step in the right direction but without relying on the specific historical example and resonant imagery of Pennsylvania rye whiskey. This was a classic drink in its heyday. It barely survives in the form of Overholt's, the ryes made by Heaven Hill and the luxury versions sold by J. Van Winkle, but all are now decamped to Kentucky. Time for a homecoming.

Cy

bobbyc
05-02-2003, 07:44
</font><blockquote><font class="small">In reply to:</font><hr />
if I ever get around to starting my own distillery

[/QUOTE]
I think I have seen this line in other posts of yours, Tim. Okay so I'll bite, What's the plan and When can we expect to see it come together?

tdelling
05-02-2003, 11:11
&gt;Okay so I'll bite, What's the plan and When can we expect to see it come together?

What's the Grand Plan?

Part of me doesn't want to give away my secret plans for taking over the world
(well, at least the whiskey part), but on the other hand, I might never actually
take the plunge, so I might as well give away my ideas so that someone can
carry them out.

I might be wrong, but I think that there's opportunity in innovative American
whiskies. There are obvious parallels to the micro-brewery "revolution"
that increased the diversity of products and really started to educate the drinking
public about beer.

Beer was easier, though. There was already a market: fanatical homebrewers
who loved tasting new things, and who also did a lot of the R&amp;D pro bono. Plus,
beer has the added advantage that it can be made and sold rather quickly...
no 5-10 year aging required.

Okay, I'm getting off track here... my plans.

1) Start small. I know nothing about running a small business, and my experience
with the alcohol business in particular is nil. I'd like to fire up a "hobby business"
in order to get my feet wet, perhaps piggy-backing on a microbrewery or a
brewpub. Strictly a hobby, strictly self-funded, no loans.

2) Open a distillery with non-whiskey revenue streams so that we can wait for
the real stuff to age. This means non-whiskey distilled stuff, tourism, etc. pay
our salaries and pay the rent.

3) Innovation and experimentation rule the day. My "ideas" in this area are no
secrets. They've been floating around StraightBourbon for years. Historic
whiskey styles, alternative grains, alternative cooperage or aging conditions.

4) Of course, it'll have my own personal stamp and reflect my attitudes
toward business, packaging, marketing, etc.

When?

Well, it all depends on when I decide that I can stomach the risk.


Tim Dellinger

bobbyc
05-02-2003, 12:02
That seems realistic enough. I spoke to One of the Beams that has the Michters Stills the other nite and He mentioned something about selling White dog to help defray costs When and if it's up and running. He also said there isn't a day that goes by that someone somewhere doesn't offer to buy those stills. I would like to have 1 label and pick some good whiskey and take care of the marketing myself. Gee I'm really talking thru my ass there! http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/images/icons/grin.gif

bluesbassdad
05-02-2003, 12:16
Tim,

</font><blockquote><font class="small">In reply to:</font><hr />
... non-whiskey revenue streams ...

[/QUOTE] When I read that, I immediately pictured you running your licensed still, along with a token warehouse, in a theme park, such as Knott's Berry Farm (in the L.A. area), where your operation would be a good fit with the funnel cake shop, the mine train, the log ride, the dance hall, etc.

Perhaps a more adult-oriented attraction would be more suitable. I'm not a Las Vegas buff, but maybe they have something that would be a good fit.

The downside of such an approach is that someone else would have a say in your operation, perhaps to the detriment of the whiskey.

Yours truly,
Dave Morefield

brendaj
05-02-2003, 13:49
Hey Chuck,
This reminds me of some stuff they bottle around here. Grain neutral spirits, real 'corny' and a kazillion proof...it's bottled under names like 'Corn Likker', etc.
I remember as teenagers (giving away my age here... http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/images/icons/blush.gif ), we used to have 'field parties' and make-up huge tubs of Kool-Aid, slice up oranges, lemons and limes and add a fifth (or two depending on the size of the tub...and party http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/images/icons/tongue.gif ), toss in a bag of ice and...it would 'set you free'... http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/images/icons/smirk.gif
So what you're saying is...most lower shelf vodka is a diluted-down version of that stuff?
Just curious. I really only drink vodka in Bloody Marys, the breakfast of champions... http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/images/icons/wink.gif
Bj

bluesbassdad
05-02-2003, 15:20
All of this discussion of vodka reminds me that as a youth I succumbed to the advertising by Smirnoff, specifically the claim that their vodka "leaves you breathless".

I wasn't sure whether that meant it would take my breath away or merely not leave a tell-tale odor on my breath. Either way I was sold.

Regarding the latter point it never occurred to me that if I were stumbling-over-matchsticks drunk, the condition of my breath was unlikely to allow me to pass for sober.

As to the former point, when I briefly attended college on the east coast in 1960 as a mere lad of barely 17 years, one of my first illegal purchases of alcohol was a pint of Smirnoff. Not having access to a refrigerator, I stored anything that I chose to chill on a window sill. I decided that would be a good place to store my vodka. I opened the bottle one snowy night when the 20 degree wind across the Charles River overcame the feeble heat from my radiator, causing me to reach for the anti-freeze. I can attest to the fact that drinking ice-cold vodka straight from the bottle does indeed leave one breathless.

Yours truly,
Dave Morefield

cowdery
05-02-2003, 17:03
</font><blockquote><font class="small">In reply to:</font><hr />
So what you're saying is...most lower shelf vodka is a diluted-down version of that stuff?


[/QUOTE] Exactly right!

bluesbassdad
05-02-2003, 19:07
Just to check the spelling in my earlier Smirnoff post I looked up their website. Then I couldn't resist clicking on "Ingredients" (http://www.smirnoff.com/history/ingredients.html).

They say, "We start [emphasis mine] with specially selected, neutral grain spirit, which we blend [not mix, mind you!] with demineralized and filtered water, purer than any spring."

They seem to acknowledge that GNS owes little debt to the origin of the starches that produced it, and they almost seem to brag about qualities that would lead inevitably to zero taste.

Yours truly,
Dave Morefield

bobbyc
05-02-2003, 19:23
This has gone on far enough, It's time for me to disseminate some acculmulated wisdom from one of the Grand Sages . HH Kroll quotes Pappy VanWinkle as saying, " If I wanted to drink Vodka I'd just find me somebody to sell me a can of Alcohol.............Folks who drink Whisky-----they want to drink something................." P209 Bluegrass Belles and Bourbon. Can I hear An Amen? !!!!!!!!! http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/images/icons/grin.gif

brendaj
05-02-2003, 19:42
Amen Brother...and pass the Bourbon... http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/images/icons/grin.gif
Hallelujah!
Bj

bobbyc
05-02-2003, 19:52
Glory, Another Wayward Soul has seen the Light and is on the True Path............Are there Others? !!!!!! http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/images/icons/grin.gif

CL
05-02-2003, 20:53
AMEN, BROTHERS AND SISTERS!!!

MurphyDawg
05-02-2003, 22:40
{Raising glass of Van Winkle 10/107}

Preach on, BROTHA!

Amen!

TomC

bobbyc
05-03-2003, 05:09
Well this is going so good I should pass the plate! http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/images/icons/grin.gif Folding money only now Brothers and Sisters, Change in the plate makes me nervous! Dig Deep ,Give till it Hurts! http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/images/icons/grin.gif

CL
05-03-2003, 14:45
I will be digging deep for the Sam's 20 yo ORVW. (Amen! Hallejiah!) It definitely requires folded bills and S/H to boot. And, yes, it will hurt, especially if the wife finds out.

cowdery
05-04-2003, 22:00
The original "Smirnoff Leaves You Breathless" campaign is considered one of the classic advertising campaigns of all time and that was exactly what the creators wrestled with. How do you find a selling proposition for a beverage that has no taste? The specific inspiration for that slogan was the businessman who wanted to have a drink at lunch but didn't want his breath to announce that fact to his co-workers.

ratcheer
05-05-2003, 19:01
Back in the 80's, I had some Swedish neighbors. They were friendly, well-to-do, gourmets, and they loved to drink pretty heavily. While I was in their sphere of influence, I once bought a bottle of Stolichnaya hot pepper flavored vodka.

I kept it in the freezer, having read that the Russians prefer it straight and "frozen". It was only 70 proof and whan it was very, very cold, it thickened to about the consistency of honey.

It was good that way. http://www.straightbourbon.com/ubbthreads/images/icons/crazy.gif

Tim