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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Attention Vodka Drinkers

    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.

  2. #2
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    I just dispense with the suspense and forego drinking vodka. If I'm in the mood for white spirits, I much prefer gin.

    Tim

  3. #3
    Advanced Taster
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    Here! Here! (or, is it, Hear! Hear!)

    Oh well!

  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    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.

  5. #5
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    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).

  6. #6
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    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.

  7. #7
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    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.

    Gary

  8. #8
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    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

    Finally, vodka drinkers should see also cognitive dissonance 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."

  9. #9
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    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?

    Gary

  10. #10
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    Re: Attention Vodka Drinkers

    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!

 

 

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