View Full Version : Attention Vodka Drinkers

03-03-2004, 18:12
Some posts in another thread told me there are some vodka drinkers here. I would like to invite vodka drinkers (okay, anybody) to react/respond to the following:

Vodka is grain neutral spirits (GNS) and water. The water is added to reduce the 190+ proof GNS to between 100 and 80 proof for bottling. That is the legal definition of vodka. Vodka, by law, has no "distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color." The only reason two different vodkas taste different is because different sources were used for the water used to dilute it after distillation. Therefore, the only difference between the contents of a $10 bottle of vodka and a $50 bottle of vodka is that different water has been used to dilute the GNS.

03-03-2004, 18:19
I just dispense with the suspense and forego drinking vodka. If I'm in the mood for white spirits, I much prefer gin. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/drink.gif


03-03-2004, 18:23
Here! Here! (or, is it, Hear! Hear!)

Oh well! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif

03-03-2004, 18:29
It does seem though that many vodkas taste different, one from the other, when sampled straight - I realise all vodka in the bottle is diluted from the cask strength, but still this remains true and I don't think the different waters alone explain the difference. Some vodka is floral, some sweetish (e.g., Stolichnaya has sugar added, I am quite sure), some creamy, etc. I think the different cereals used to form the mash do have varying impact on flavour.

I believe also that even at 190 proof congeneric content varies in vodka and that residual congeners can impact flavor.

Theory and practice are two different things. I remain convinced that vodka is not GNS in most cases, not at the higher ranges of quality. There are too many variables.

03-03-2004, 19:15
It does seem though that many vodkas taste different, one from the other, when sampled straight

I agree. Try drinking a straight shot of a "premium" vodka and a shot of a cheap, well vodka. I guarantee you'll taste a difference. I drank Popov straight once and it tasted like kerosene. (Not to be confused with Zima, which tastes like a mix of kerosene and 7-Up).

03-03-2004, 19:24
I imagine what distinguishes a high-end vodka is the grain quality, water source, and distillation procedures. My personal favorite, Pearl, boasts that it's distilled five times and made from winter wheat.

I can attest that mouthfeel and taste (or *LACK* of taste) varies greatly in vodkas.

Bottom line--vodkas are boring. Give me a bourbon any day!

03-03-2004, 19:32
27 CFR 5.22
(a) Class 1; neutral spirits or alcohol. "Neutral spirits" or "alcohol" are distilled spirits produced from any material at or above 190 deg. proof, and, if bottled, bottled at not less than 80 deg. proof.
(1) "Vodka" is neutral spirits so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.

03-03-2004, 23:59
This is the U.S. definition of vodka, i.e., domestic vodka. If I read it right it is saying that 190 proof neutral spirit is not vodka per se but qualifies if distilled again or subjected to filtration or other rectification to remove distinctive flavour. So clearly vodka, at least in the U.S., is grain neutral spirit but requires yet further processing to be called vodka! I don't know that much about vodka production but do know that generally, U.S. and British vodkas, including Canadian types, are almost tasteless as a result. But this does not mean, in practice, that they are identical in nose, taste or mouthfeel. I do not believe water alone can explain this. I would think all water is treated in North American plants when added to pure spirit so as itself to be almost neutral.

Consumer writers on vodka say that traditional vodkas from Poland and Russia are not bland and neutral like American vodka but have flavour - it can be subtle - resulting from production differences vs. our methods. E.g., some Russian vodka traditionally was distilled only once. I have noted on vodka labels over the years reference to two, three or even four distillations. Repeated distillation(s) I would think are done not just to produce more throughput economically but to "purify" the taste more. That is, the less processed vodkas have "more" or at any rate a different taste than, say, a quadruple-distilled vodka. Traditional vodka was also subjected to less filtration than, say, American vodka. Also, people have written that rye and wheat are superior materials to start from than molasses or corn. (I noted in England two years ago that a well-known gin brand advertised on the label the base spirit was made from grain: a cheaper, own-brand close by stated the base was derived from molasses). I can't explain further technically why Russian or Polish vodkas are considered superior in flavour generally to our versions. Can it be false perception? Maybe in part but I think there is some basis to it. Has some Russian and Polish vodka itself become more neutral tasting over the years to widen its market here? Undoubtedly. But still there are detectable differences amongst the traditional foreign brands and between them as a group and our silent spirit-type vodkas.

Also, something can lack distinctive taste but still differ from another of its type. Water from springs varies widely in taste for example but does not have a distinctive taste.

If one sampled Everclear diluted to 80 proof vs. Popov vs. a Polish rye vodka vs. a good Russian vodka, I think they would be found to taste somewhat different. I once attended a tasting some years ago of this nature and the tasters agreed that differences abounded. I believe taste differences result from the type of fermentable materials used, whether there are prolonged distillations or filtrations to remove congeners, and in some cases the type of water used to make or dilute the spirit.

Also, grain neutral spirit contains measurable amounts of congeners. The amounts are very small but in my view the fact that each brand will contain differing types and levels of congeners will have an effect on flavour. It may be subtle and probably is not noticeable in mixed drinks, at least when consumed casually as is usually the case. But there seem to be "signatures" to many of the vodkas in the market when taken neat.


03-04-2004, 08:14
I think there are more differences in flavor than water alone would cause. The differences must either come from distillation process or grain used. But these differences are subtle.

I think the higher end (and heavily marketed) vodkas like Grey Goose and Belvedere are way overrated. One of my favorites costs $15, Monopolowa; a potato vodka from Austria. There are so many vodkas on market and most are not advertised.

Another consideration is probably 90% of vodkas go into cocktails/ martinis with fruit juices or other flavorings. Once you start mixing a cosmopolitan, I doubt you could tell Grey Goose from Absolute or Popvov.

03-04-2004, 08:27
Blended Vodka...not the "specialty" stuff but "regular" Vodka...

Buy the one with the "cheapest" price tag http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/blush.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif...

http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif Bettye Jo http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif

03-04-2004, 08:50
A few points on vodka:

1) If ever there was a place for analytical chemistry in the drinks business,
this is it! I'll bet that there's more in there than just ethanol + water.

2) Congeners are human-detectable at really low concentrations, so it doesn't
take much to alter the taste/smell.

3) Just because the law says it must be water + ethanol doesn't mean that it's
true in practice. When dealing with pure things, cleanliness is everything.
Perhaps a certain vodka was distlled to 190 proof, but later handling
could "inadvertantly" add flavorings. <*see footnote>.

4) I'm not joking when I say this, but: define "water". As we've seen in
the press lately, Coca-Cola's flagship bottled water ("Dasani"), marketed
as "pure", actually has added magnesium, calcium, and sodium bicarbonate,
all for taste. How much of these minerals can you add and still call it
water? How much of these minerals are required to make vodkas taste
different? I consider minerals to be valid ingredients in vodka which
might very well lead to detectable differences in taste.


<*> I heard a funny story about Budweiser trying to track down some "off"
flavors in one of it's beers. They thought they had an infection
somewhere in the brewing process, but it only turned up every now and then.
They pulled their hair out for a while... and discovered that it was coming
from the bottle caps. So they leaned on their suppliers and tried to root
out the problem, but to no avail. Eventually they discovered the real problem:
every now and then, one of the semi trailers used to haul the bottle caps
would have a residual smell in it from a previous (unrelated to beer) load
of something they were hauling. This would then seep into the plastic lining
of the bottlecaps and from there seep into the beer!

03-04-2004, 10:53
From my experience, there are definitely significant differences in the taste of vodka. Grey Goose, Turi, Ciroc, Thor's Hammer, and Ketel One are the ones I've tasted most recently, and all have significantly different flavors that I was able to identify in a blind test... I even convinced someone who had argued his whole life that vodka was just ethanol and water that there really is a difference using Grey Goose and Ketel One, and those are far more similar than say, Ciroc, Turi, and Thor's Hammer.


03-04-2004, 14:46
All excellent points, especially the one that all water is not created equal, which is exactly my point. The differences in vodkas are all attributable to the differences in the dilution water, which has nothing to do with the "quality grains" or the "careful distillation methods" or the "distiller's art." It's the water!

03-04-2004, 16:14
Federal regulations regarding spirits apply to all products sold in the United States, regardless of their origin. I can't speak for Canada. Here is the only regulation I can find permitting the flavoring of vodka without causing it to be called "flavored vodka."

27 CFR 5.23 Alteration of class and type.

(3) "Harmless coloring, flavoring, and blending materials" shall
not include (i) any material which would render the product to which it
is added an imitation, or (ii) any material, other than caramel,
infusion of oak chips, and sugar, in the case of Cognac brandy; or (iii)
any material whatsoever in the case of neutral spirits or straight
whiskey, except that vodka may be treated with sugar in an amount not to
exceed 2 grams per liter and a trace amount of citric acid. (emphasis added)

The portion of the CFR pertaining to alcohol regulation can be found here (http://www.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/cfrassemble.cgi?title=200227)

Finally, vodka drinkers should see also cognitive dissonance (http://www.dmu.ac.uk/~jamesa/learning/dissonance.htm) for a further explanation of what they think they're tasting.

If science can't explain it, perhaps religion can. From the Book of Hebrews: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

03-04-2004, 16:43
A quick google search for:
gc vodka

turned up a .pdf of a paper that looked at mineral content of vodkas
with an eye towards spotting fakes.

From the paper:

"For premium vodka brands,
demineralised water is filtered through activated carbon
to absorb unwanted organic and inorganic materials. Then
it is passed through deionisation columns, which remove
other impurities present. The rectified spirit and demineralised
water are blended in the correct proportions. The
blended spirit is charcoaled for up to 8 h. The charcoal
adsorbs impurities that cannot be removed by distillation

They make a big deal about getting all the salts out, and
the study shows that Russian vodkas tend to have very little
salt, whereas German vodkas have much more salt (as do the

They also mention that additives are used to change pH,
"which enhance the softness of taste".

The GC results show that there is some acetaldehyde and
some iso-amyl alcohol in the Smirnoff and the "authentic
German vodka", but no other higher alcohols.

Their list of vodkas tested didn't look all that impressive...
the only names I recognized were Smirnoff and Absolut.

I think I'm starting to agree with Chuck. "Premium vodka" is
all about the water.

Tim Dellinger

03-04-2004, 17:59
I agree also Chuck, not all water IS equal.

Case in point:

A few years back our good friends at Jack Daniels had a novel piece of holiday glassware in which there were two spheres, one above the other kind of resembling a headless Frostie the Snowman. The idea was to fill the bottom portion with water or other chaser and float the JD on top of it in the second cylinder. A good friend found that the JD would not float on tap water, bottled spring water, or even distilled water from a bottle but would blend right in. However, he tried some well water from his grandfather's farm's well and VOILA seperation was achieved. I've tasted (or rather didn't taste) that water supply before and it has to be the most mineral free tasteless water I ever had. I'd like to think it was akin to the limestone filtered water used by our good friends at the distilleries.

03-04-2004, 18:07
Yet even Budweiser doesn't always taste (exactly) the same, why then should the ethanol component of vodkas made in many different parts of the world, from different materials, distilled from once to four times depending on the method employed, filtered or not in various ways? It can't just be the water that explains the fact they do taste different. Don't distilleries all use a fairly tasteless demineralised water (or whatever it's called) to dilute? If (as is the case) GNS contain measurable amounts of congeners, surely the type and amount must vary in all these products; why would the taste result not vary accordingly?

Isn't the discussion more, what constitutes a subtle difference?


03-04-2004, 18:24
I am not a big vodka drinker, but, it is my understanding that vodka is made from various grains and/or potatoes. These ingredients have to have an influence on the taste... just like wheat and rye with bourbon! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/drinking.gif

03-04-2004, 18:35
I have a hard time believing it's all from the water. Vodka tasting notes (http://www.tastings.com/search_spirits.lasso?se=k&amp;sb=All&amp;ca=Vodka&amp;sf=Score ForSort&amp;sk=0) often speak of "anise", "citrus", and other flavors that ethanol + water alone really shouldn't have. Unless of course, you think it's all a bunch of hooey. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif

03-04-2004, 19:07
I am not a big vodka drinker, but, it is my understanding that vodka is made from various grains and/or potatoes. These ingredients have to have an influence on the taste... just like wheat and rye with bourbon!

Not, and this is the point, at 190+ proof. GNS is alcohol and nothing else. The chemists here can explain it better than I can, but alcohol is alcohol, all chemically identical. You taste grain characteristics, etc., in whiskey because it is distilled at less than 160 proof and in some cases as low as 110 proof. The very purpose of the high distillation proof of vodka and the processes like charcoal filtering is to remove the taste-producing congeners so it complies with the federal requirement of tastelessness.

03-04-2004, 23:35
For some time I've been following a company called Shakers which makes vodka in the U.S. This company came out of the team that produced Pete's Wicked Ale which until sale of the brand was a successful, pioneering micro-beer. Shakers is making a splash around the country. Pat Couteaux is the company's distiller and has advanced degrees in distillation science. Pat Couteaux has been interviewed numerous times about his company's product. See e.g. www.cocktailtimes.com (http://www.cocktailtimes.com), also www.findarticles.com. (http://www.findarticles.com.) He states that the grain from which vodka is derived and the mix of grains affects flavour and mouth feel. He classifies flavour as neutral if corn is used, "soft" if wheat is used and spicy if rye is used (he speaks of a "hint" of spice from the rye). He describes in detail the complex distillation process - 6 distillations - used by Shakers to get what it wants in the flavour profile. I am not an expert on vodka, much less chemistry, far from it, but he is focusing on grain source as a differentiator here. On the company's website, www.shakersvodka.com (http://www.shakersvodka.com), it is claimed the taste "embodies" the wheat the vodka is made from. It is suggested the further removal of congeners, in two final extractive distillations, allows the wheat character to come through.

There would appear to be different views of what constitutes a lack of taste. I am not saying I could detect these differences on a blind taste test but then again I rarely drink vodka. I recall having some Stoli recently at a Russian-style restaurant and it struck me as "empty", lacking body and flavour. But then too my regular tipples are some of the most flavourous whiskies made, so it is going from one extreme to another..

Also, I would note each maker of GNS (as legally defined for proof level of course) establishes its own specification for its brand. There is no national standard which specifies what residual congeners can or cannot be in the ethanol or in what percentage. No doubt distillation to 190 or 192 proof in pratice will remove most congeners that affect flavour - most but not all because otherwise why would some distillers continue to rectify pure alcohol? Shakers' site makes clear that its first four distillations removes the water from the spirit. The last two are intended to remove congeners that (presumably) don't deliver the taste profile the company is looking for. If in fact the "wheat" still influences the final product there must be something in the spirit derived from the wheat that delivers this result - I assume this consists of very small amounts of "good" congeners that help impart the taste desired. I was reading of a vodka made in France and sold in the U.S. - can't recall the name at present - that is distilled from wine. It is sold here as a "vodka" (thus meeting the legal test Chuck has mentioned). The taste notes given indicate a scent of white grapes. Byrn writing in the 1870's noted that no matter how much a grape brandy from lees (kernels and skins of grapes left over from winemaking rehydrated for fermentation) is distilled, it still shows some character from the source material (the typical grappa flavour is what he had in mind). I can only assume that something must remain in the ethanol no matter how prolonged the distillations and filtrations to explain such results.


03-05-2004, 14:41
Gary, the vodka made from grapes you mentioned is most likely Ciroc ( http://www.cirocvodka.com/ ). Its made from grapes, and distilled 5 times in pot stills. The character of the grapes is evident. I say with confidence that after my first taste of this, I could have picked it out in a blind test. I'm pretty sure I could pick it out, even if I'd never had it before. Its not an overpowering taste, but it is most definitely there. If you've ever had anything distilled from grapes before, you'd recognize this taste. Very good vodka by the way, highly recommended.


03-06-2004, 09:06
Calling a neutral spirit made from grapes "vodka" is as absurd as calling a drink that contains no gin, vodka nor vermouth a martini, just because it's served in a martini glass. Well, counter-intuitive if not absurd. In fact, the rules allow, maybe even require, any neutral spirit made from any material to be called "vodka." That's why the source has to be identified. Normally a spirit made from grapes would be called brandy, but at neutral proof it cannot legally be called brandy and has to be called vodka. As most of you probably have figured out by now, I interpret the current vodka craze as proof that the end times are nigh.

03-06-2004, 09:12
Chuck, I think the reason that was introduced was to show that the grains (or in this case, grapes) of origin do indeed contribute some character to the beverage. You would intuitively think that after run through multiple high-performance distillations the ethanol shouldn't care where it came from, but actually it does. Water differences alone don't answer for the residual character.

03-07-2004, 16:14
There are only four possibilities.

1) GNS is, in fact, not truly oderless, tasteless, etc. as the law requires, although presumably those are terms of art that have some legal significance, while being actually untrue, and human taste receptors can, in fact, detect residual source flavors in the 3 to 4 percent component of the distillate that is not pure ethanol. (I'm skeptical of this explanation.)

2) All ethanol is not, in fact, the same so far as taste and scent are concerned and you can taste the source material in something that is virtually pure ethanol. (I'm extremely skeptical of this one.)

3) It's the water. (My explanation for part of the phenomenon.)

4) It's cognitive dissonance (http://www.dmu.ac.uk/~jamesa/learning/dissonance.htm). (My explanation for the rest.)

03-07-2004, 21:56
Human taste buds can detect some substances in the parts per billion to parts per trillion range... TCA, the substance that causes a wine to be "corked" can be detected by some people in concentrations as low as 2 parts per trillion, although most people can't detect much less than 5 ppt. One gram of the stuff could taint a year's worth of Australia's entire wine production. An amount equal to a couple dozen grains of salt could taint an olympic sized swimming pool. Now, hopefully there is no TCA in vodka, but it is by no means the only substance that is detectable in very low concentrations. I have no problem at all believing that enough aromatics make it through the distillation process to influence the taste of the final product. I'd recommend finding a liquor store with a good selection of minis, and conducting a serious tasting of vodkas... but beware of cognitave dissonance, it works both ways http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/laugh.gif


03-08-2004, 00:14
Your points are all well taken. I had reached a similar conclusion. The minis are a good suggestion.

03-08-2004, 05:32
Chuck--for your tasting, make sure you include Grey Goose. If you're looking for flavors &amp; character which wouldn't be water-related, it has a non-subtle anise taste &amp; finish.

03-08-2004, 07:16
There are only four possibilities.

1) GNS is, in fact, not truly oderless, tasteless, etc. as the law requires, although presumably those are terms of art that have some legal significance, while being actually untrue, and human taste receptors can, in fact, detect residual source flavors in the 3 to 4 percent component of the distillate that is not pure ethanol. (I'm skeptical of this explanation.)

I'd be a subscriber to explanation #1 here. Again, I'd go back to the grape-origin vodka as a perfect example. If the distillate were absolutely devoid of anything residual, it shouldn't matter where it came from.

2) All ethanol is not, in fact, the same so far as taste and scent are concerned and you can taste the source material in something that is virtually pure ethanol. (I'm extremely skeptical of this one.)

I hope you didn't misunderstand my comments as suggesting this...I think this one's absurd.

3) It's the water. (My explanation for part of the phenomenon.)

If you soften the language to "part of..." then absolutely! Just not "all of..." http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif

4) It's cognitive dissonance (http://www.dmu.ac.uk/~jamesa/learning/dissonance.htm). (My explanation for the rest.)

I think this comes into play in just about any written discussion of spirits! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smirk.gif

03-08-2004, 08:32
I checked my bookmarks and found the wine-derived vodka I mentioned, it is Ciroc Snap Frost Vodka. See www.cirocvodka.com. (http://www.cirocvodka.com.) It is distilled from wine made from grapes frosted over in a snap frost. The frosting concentrates the sugar in the grapes. This is sold in the U.S. now. Paul Pacult reported in 2003 that it was "sweet, ripe, grapey" and had "fruity ripeness". Of course many vodkas can taste fruity (e.g. of pineapple) but Pacult's observations seem to detect, in part at least, the product's grape origins. The company indicates a 5-step distillation process is followed. Although I can't find details, I would think the last two distillations are extractive - designed that is to lower the level of congeners that can survive even intense fractional distillation (e.g. methanol).

Just to contribute further usefully to this discussion, I want to add that I found a reference stating that the European Union allows a maximum 50 ppm. of methanol in neutral spirits. This is considerably higher than in the other countries that have adopted a national standard. The U.S. and Canada are not (from what I can glean) among these. Producers here of GNS set their own spec (i.e., beyond stated legal requirements related to 190 proof, etc.) and will aim in their best grade for much lower than 50 ppm. Apparently the EU standard is related to the fact that much spirit there is made from grapes or starchy tubers such as potatos (possibly also sugar beet) and these tend when distilled to create more methanol than other fermentables. I wonder if this explains why some Polish vodkas in particular seem more flavorful than most North American vodkas.

As I have written here before: on the rare occasions I buy vodka I buy the one which advertises the fewest distillations.


03-08-2004, 08:58

Therefore, the only difference between the contents of a $10 bottle of vodka and a $50 bottle of vodka is that different water has been used to dilute the GNS.

This has been a most interesting thread. All the discussion of tastes makes me chuckle.
I know three vodka drinkers. Two guys and a woman. The woman drinks mixed drinks, and prefers vodka because it has no taste...
The men are both mass quantity drinkers. They drink it straight or with a splash of soda, and they prefer vodka for the same reason...no taste.
I don't know whether this makes me a snob, or a backwoods hillbilly...but I don't know anyone that drinks vodka for the taste... http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif

03-08-2004, 11:08
"Of course many vodkas can taste fruity (e.g. of pineapple)"

Last year, while on vaction in Tahiti. I purchased a bottle of locally produced vodka made made from pineapple.

03-08-2004, 12:43
I had in mind non-flavoured grain vodkas but you have reminded us neutral spirits can be made from a broad range of fermentables including not just fruits but whey and even, if I am not mistaken, wood cellulose. The fruity scents of non-flavoured vodka can derive from esters and other compounds.


03-08-2004, 15:47
Chuck, if you try a taste test (I have) be sure to get a bottle of Rain Vodka.

I feel pretty certain that if you put a specific Russian vodka, a specific Polish vodka, and Rain Vodka (from Buffalo Trace) many will claim a difference in taste. Frankly, I can taste corn in Rain -- and that is the grain from which it is distilled. Rain goes from grain to finished product in Frankfort, KY. I subscribe to the theory that some of the original substance comes through.

Once you make a martini or vodka tonic -- forget it. I don't see how you can claim much of a difference.

I also point out that many US vodkas come from exactly the same source and cannot be any different from each other except for the dilution and the bottle.

05-30-2004, 10:21
I remembered this discussion about vodka while at dinner the other night when I saw this advertisement card on the table... I snapped a quick pic of it if anyone is interestind in this 'unique' (?) new product from Absolut.

05-30-2004, 10:48
Interesting because I was just reading about Absolut Blue Vodka (the regular label), and the ad copy said the vodka is distilled in a column apparatus 4 times to near neutrality and then some "low proof" spirit is added to it to add flavour. The source I read did not state the low proof spirit is made in batches but I suspect the process is the same in both cases (probably it is the same drink). This practice reminds me of the Canadian distillation practice of adding some straight whiskey to a high proof bland-tasting base spirit to lend character.

It sounds, perhaps, like a spin is being put on a traditional Absolut practice. This explains in any case why vodkas really do taste different, some are combinations of high and lower proof distillates, many are flavoured with sugar, apple spirits or other additives, and of course the particular type of water used may add its own stamp of difference.


05-30-2004, 14:33
Mark Brown once explained the Rain vodka production process, which I don't precisely remember because I didn't care, but I remember it went through four distillations in four different stills and at least one was a pot or batch still. (Rain is made by Buffalo Trace.)

The point remains, though, that it is still essentially a quest for neutrality, which is great for Switzerland but not something I get excited about drinking.

05-30-2004, 16:16
We've had the Absolut Level vodka in the store a couple of weeks now and, so far as I know, have not sold a single bottle yet. Absolut and its various flavored vodkas, however, remain good sellers. But the Level is in a level by itself -- $8-$10 more than the regular Absolut. So, the good news is that Absolut does not seem to be cannibalizing its own market; the bad news is it doesn't seem to be cannibalizing anyone else's yet, either.

05-30-2004, 16:29
I wonder, apart from packaging, what distinguishes the higher-priced Absolut from the regular Blue version. Maybe more pot still distillate is added to the newbie than to the Blue. Since the advertising makes mention of the pot still (batch) element, this is plausible. A number of vodkas over the years have advertised pot still production, I believe both Grey Goose and Ketel fall into this category. Of course, a pot still can be subjected to numerous distillations so as to lighten and render the spirit rather mild-tasting; clearly this is the case with Grey Goose which remains still a distinctive and interesting vodka.


05-30-2004, 16:33
I don't know whether this makes me a snob, or a backwoods hillbilly...but I don't know anyone that drinks vodka for the taste... http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif


I think it makes you someone on a quest for good TASTE. Something Vodka drinkers are trying to avoid. I want my bourbon pure but far from tasteless. All Vodka tastes much the same to me. The hangover may change relative to price. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif

05-30-2004, 16:39
I agree and yet somehow vodka, especially well-iced, goes well on certain occasions. It suits the time when one wants a quick drink (hard to chug bourbon). Or before certain foods, or occasionally in summer. Recently I tried Ciroc (the one distilled from grape wine) and it certainly had a light fruity overlay, it went well before the beer at the barbeque. I have it only rarely, but once in a while it hits the spot. I like it neat, very cold, in shot glasses brimful. One is enough. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif


05-30-2004, 17:33
Do not get me wrong I love a good bloody mary and even a fuzzy navel or white russian every now and then. For me Vodka is for mixing. It is good for that and the cheapest is as good as the best for mixing.

05-30-2004, 18:56
For me Vodka is for mixing. It is good for that and the cheapest is as good as the best for mixing.

I wouldn't quite go that far.

I just bought a bottle of Smirnoff 90 proof vodka last month for my wife's White Russians, and it had the scent of rubbing alcohol. She did not like it, even buried under the Kahlua and milk. We've since replaced it with something a bit more pleasant on the nose.

05-31-2004, 17:00
I started this thread with a prejudice that has since been modified if not entirely abated. I trust the contributors here and they said, "try some," so I did. When I buy vodka at all it typically is the cheapest American brand. Buying for a party not long ago, I picked up a bottle of Svedka, which is an Absolut knockoff. I also had some Skol in the house (a cheap American vodka) so I compared the two. There is a noticable difference. The Skol has a distinct alcohol taste. The Svedka is more nearly neutral, virtually like drinking water.

05-31-2004, 19:33
We steer a lot of store customers to Svedka as a 'value' vodka, and most are pleased. Polar Ice, also, which is ridiculously cheap at the 1.75L size, and generally positively received.
And, I'm a fan of Buffalo Trace's Rain, though I seldom drink vodka, so don't have some at hand at present.

06-01-2004, 04:11
This thread has prompted me to read up on vodka more than ever before. The Polish brands seem the most likely to offer flavor even in "unflavored" versions. This is because a number of them are not highly rectified and are made so as to show flavour (or the influence) of the cereals they are made from. A lot of interesting information is available www.polishvodka.com. (http://www.polishvodka.com.) This site has collected a number of technical articles by experts, most seemingly translated from Polish. They offer notes and discussion of brands and trends in consumption. One writer proposes a three-part classification for vodka: the Western-style neutral type; the flavoured type (using fruits, sugar, pepper, spices, what have you); and the unflavored type which is not quite neutral in taste due to not being as highly rectified as the first group. The site mentions Wyoborowa, a Polish vodka made entirely from rye, as a classic vodka offering a naturally creamy and spicy rye taste. (The renowned Starka brand is another example and others are mentioned or discussed in other sources). Wyoborowa is all-rye spirit distilled twice in pot stills. While no doubt subjected to some kind of rectification to meet the legal test for vodka, this brand, according to many commentators, offers fine flavor at a reasonable price. In 1997 it finished first in a blind tasting of vodkas held by a London newspaper, for example. The company which makes it is owned now by Pernod Ricard which apparently has not interfered with the original formulation. From taste descriptions, I believe this kind of Polish vodka may work well in some of the cocktails I make combining different bourbons, spirits and flavorings. I have noted the discussion about brown sugar in bourbon. I have never tried that but have added a very small amount of maple syrup to a blend of bourbons and the result was very good. Too much of the flavoring can "kill" the whiskey taste, however. I have found as little as 1%-2% is sufficient (essentially a dash only to a glass). This seemingly low percentage of additive is in line with recommendations in old blending manuals.

06-01-2004, 04:47
On the website I just mentioned, a home recipe is given from 1937 which is said to be "very close" to Starka vodka. Starka is a famous old-style vodka, made from lower proof rye spirit and long-aged in wood, so a form of rye whiskey, in effect. Starka was traditionally and still is aged in barrels that had held (again according to this website) "southern wines", i.e., sweet sherry, port or Malaga wine. Mark had just mentioned Imperial stout, and an Australian contributor drew our attention to a Jim Beam Bourbon sold "down under" flavored with port wine. Well, this old home recipe to emulate Starka vodka utilises two additions very close to port and strong stout, namely sweet Malaga wine and Baltic porter beer. Interested readers will want to consult the site for full details but essentially the recipe involves adding to good spirit some Malaga, a glass of porter (alternate local name for an Imperial-type stout), and a handful of hazelnut shells! I would think the shells and porter beer would emulate the effects of cask aging (e.g., give a nutty taste and increased body). The Malaga wine is similar to some of the blending agents traditionally used to flavor or marry new or blended spirits. I don't know if I will ever try to make this mixture but it makes for interesting reading.


06-01-2004, 16:31
For further reading, the latest issue of American Distller (No. 16, April
2004) is all about artisan vodkas. I especially liked the article about
Silver Creek Distillers in Idaho.

You can get it in PDF form from www.distilling.com (http://www.distilling.com), although they don't
really have a lot of bandwidth and so the website is sometimes slow.

Tim Dellinger

06-04-2004, 13:24
Gary, Are you sure you didn't mean this URL:


The site has evolved over the years, but seems to improve (unlike many web sites and cobweb sites). The history section is great reading. And every time I think of vodka, which I haven't touched in about 20 years, I want to try a sip of that astonishing 50 year old Starka: the pictures show a beautiful red color, with no coloring added, and, as you say, it must really be a relative of rye whiskey. The folks who make Starka say they have 53 year old Starka in progress (!), who knows when it will be ready? Cheers, Ed

06-04-2004, 14:12
Ed, many thanks for correcting me, indeed this is the URL I meant to draw attention to. I note too, on checking the 1937 Starka recipe "home-style", that it involves dried tea leaves in addition to the rye vodka, Malaga wine, Porter and hazelnut shells I had indicated. Sounds like a "strange brew", maybe someone will essay that for the Gazebo tastings in September! I too would like to try the real Starka, at any age, but I have never been able to find it. I believe it may taste like old-style American rye whiskey made from an all rye + barley malt mash (no corn) and showing a fruity character from addition of a fruit-based blending agent or the natural estery quality that may have derived from the top-acting yeasts used (I presume) in the old days to ferment the mash.


06-04-2004, 14:41
For those intrigued by the Polish Starka (there is also a Russian Starka that is not at all the same as the Polish one): http://www.polishvodka.com.pl/fr_starka-story.htm

Fifty years in one barrel! That must really be something. I wonder how it can avoid woodiness, though. Presumably the oak barrels are not charred. Onyone know if charred barrels are used for anything other that bourbon, rye and scotch? OK, maybe Irish and Canadian, and scotch imitators, but other than these usual suspects? Cheers, Ed

06-04-2004, 14:47
Ed, to my knowledge, new charred barrels are used by Cognac makers but only for the first year or two of aging: after that they transfer the spirit to reused casks. As for Polish Starka, surely it would have been aged (or principally) in ex-wine barrels and mainly those that held sherry or Malaga or similar. The wine addition seems a key part of the Starka character, and that would be obtained by entering the new rye spirit into barrels that used to hold Malaga or another sweet wine. See also the Starka web site for more information.


06-04-2004, 14:54
Gary, thanks for setting me straight! Seems obvious now that you repeat it! Duh! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/banghead.gif http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/bowdown.gif Unfortunately, we have almost no Polish grad students or post-docs here right now, which would open up a muling opportunity, but I will be keeping an eye open for a chance to get a younger (say 10 year old) Starka. Even a mini would be great. It is amazing what variety is out there. Cheers, Ed

06-04-2004, 14:57
Well, thanks but really there is so much to learn in these areas, I constantly acquire new knowledge from others on this forum, from the Internet and other reading, from tasting, from thinking.. The web site I was referring to in my last message is www.polmos.szczecin.pl. (http://www.polmos.szczecin.pl.). In fact, my understanding that Starka is aged in ex-sherry and Malaga casks comes from a number of sources including the two sites we have discussed. Since such casks are reused, they would not necessarily impart heavy wood (tannic) character to the drink notwithstanding the very long aging periods employed for some Starka.


06-04-2004, 17:30
new charred barrels are used by Cognac makers but only for the first year or two of aging: after that they transfer the spirit to reused casks.

How does that work, exactly? It would seem that after the "first year or two of aging" the cask it currently is in is "used." If they take it out of one now-used cask to put it into another used cask, what do they do with the first used cask? Put some other two-year-old Cognac into it?

Oh wait, I forgot. Cognac is in France. Now it makes perfect sense.

06-04-2004, 17:42
I think the idea is to get maximum wood extract that only a new cask can give, but they don't want too much. If they left it in the new cask after the first year or two, it would acquire a deep wood character, like Bourbon. They don't want that, so they change casks, they put it into one used many times or at least more than once. What do they do with the casks only used once? I am not sure, maybe they are sold to winemakers, or sherry houses. Also, they may transfer old cognac into these on the theory that additional wood extract won't hurt older spirit as much as it might tender young spirit. I understand casks in brandy making are reused time and again until they fall apart. It seems some of the new casks are charred pretty fair (we had this discussion earlier) but perhaps not to the extent of new Bourbon barrels..


06-04-2004, 18:14
It's possible the used casks are also decharred, but now we're just guessing.

06-04-2004, 18:56
Good point. One thing I would say with fair certainty is reused casks have a certain "taste" of, for lack of a better term, "depleted wood". It is maybe a very faint charred taste, or an oakiness which is not quite plain wood but rather (understandably!) "used wood". I detect it in much Canadian whisky, recently in Michter's Unblended American Whiskey, and some Spanish brandy. Can't say for Cognac because I drink too little of it. New charred oak really does impart the best of the barrel to whiskey; after that it's downhill all the way. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif In that sense, I can see the logic of not drinking bourbon too old, the whole point is to allow the barrel to succour the whiskey and no doubt the red layer is key here. Once that goes, the oak container doesn't do the same thing for the spirit. Of course with brandy, scotch, Canadian whisky and American whiskeys other than bourbon that's okay: the makers don't want that rich wood sugar smokey taste to get in the spirit, or not too much of it. Different strokes, or maybe just a convenient intra- and international industry arrangement, but it all works very well..


06-14-2004, 20:11
Picking out Chuck's post here to juxtapose some notes after tasting Grey Goose and Ketel One recently side-by-side. Reason being his remarks sum up my reaction: even premium vodkas such as these reflect to a large degree a "quest for neutrality"; and yet there are evident differences between these vodkas once that is taken as the baseline. Ketel One has mild aroma but a rather heavy, soft body: "creamy", "sweet", yet not sugary. Very soft mouth feel, "pillowy", a vodka counterpart to EWSB '94. The label advertises pot distillation and no doubt this adds a lot to the flavor and texture of this drink. I drank it neat at room temperature as I did the Grey Goose. Said gander was quite different: much thinner, harsher, with all the flavour packed into the finish, an interesting bitter-like (not quite quinine, but close) aftertaste which gave it its top-note. I could see why people like GG because it would "poke through" soda or other mixes. The Ketel would too, but in a different way. To me, the Ketel was clearly superior, a well-made neutral-type spirit but not really bland at all. Vodka or at least good vodka is one of those mysterious drinks: drunk neat, especially at room temerature, it seems to acquire a flavor all its own. A bibulous paradox, perhaps..


06-16-2004, 07:30
I always wondered about that. It seems every vodka distiller is competing to see how many times they can distill the spirits and how neutral an ethanol they can produce.

I tried Stolichnaya and found it to taste like... straight ethanol in distilled water! A friend says Grey Goose is much better (she takes one sniff of a vodka's vapors and professes to know the quality... I don't believe it though).

My question is, how can any vodka NOT taste and smell like... straight ethanol in distilled water??

Time to purchase an assortment of those "airline portion" bottles.

There must be various volatile organic compounds which make it all the way through the distillation process with the ethanol. They'd have to have boiling points very close to that of ethanol, wouldn't they? ...limiting them to a fairly narrow selection.

The only source of flavor I can think of, besides any that might arise from the water used to dilute the GNS, would come from the container in which the spirits are stored. Vodka, having no special flavor of its own in a pure form, will easily "wear on its sleeve" any foreign flavors it's picked up from a container... because there's nothing to mask their taste. Consider what happens if you leave "pure" water in a plastic jug for a few days- you cannot help but taste the "plastic". Ethanol is a better solvent for many of these compounds than is water. Still, I don't know how you can appreciably take away from vodka's "reagent-grade ethanol in distilled water" taste and smell.

06-16-2004, 08:14
Read through the rest of the posts in this thread. I wouldn't exactly say they made me a believer, but they gave me a few things to think about. The human sense of taste (okay, really the sense of smell) is incredibly powerful, but so is the imagination.

06-16-2004, 12:47
Good points and questions. The fact is, no matter the thoroughness of distillation method, as you say volatiles must enter the distillate at vaporisation points close to that of ethanol. They in part - and it is known very, very small concentrations are`detectable by some humans - must account for the different flavours and mouthfeels of different vodkas. The mouthfeel in particular of Ketel One vs. Grey Goose was striking. Both were the same proof, too (80 proof). The water is another factor, probably. Glass would not react with ethanol though, so the plastic issue would only affect mini bottles sold in that form (not all are) and jug-type containers made from polystyrene or similar materials. Probably the type of charcoal or other filters used have an impact too no matter how deactivated they are.

Can one tell by nose alone? Possibly an experienced palate could do so.


09-12-2004, 05:07
Here is favorite quote of mine on vodka from, "The World Atlas of Food - A Gourmet's Guide To The Great Regional Dishes of The World" (Mitchell Beazley, 1974):

"The Russians drink much too much vodka - or so their government thinks. Since the 1950's there has been an official campaign to promote wine-drinking at the expense of vodka. In practice the two co-exist very happily. Wine consumption goes up - vodka stays put.

Good vodka is the nearest thing to plain alcohol that the distiller can produce. He may start with grain, or potatoes, or even wood shavings, but his object is to remove, by distilling and filtering, every vestige of anything except alcohol and water. The result is a drink which is more like an injection. It seems absurd to claim that in some way this spirit is delicious. But so it is - ice-cold, snorted back a glassful at a time with richly oily tidbits. This is the classic beginning to a Russian meal. Nothing can replace it".