Vodka 101: Everything You Need to Know

Vodka! It’s May’s featured spirit.

On its own, I feel like vodka gets a bad rap. And for good reason. It’s the bottle most newly-legals go for at the liquor store, usually with a weird artificial flavor like sour apple or whipped cream added in. 

But most vodka is flavorless, colorless and odorless — what could it possibly add to cocktails?

Vodka gets the most liquor store shelf space, though — also for good reason. Because of its distinct lack of character, vodka is incredibly versatile and is the base for so many classic drinks.

It’s like a blank canvas with lots of room for creativity, so if you’re new to cocktails, vodka is a good place to start. From James Bond to Sex and the City, vodka has its place in pop culture and definitely at the bar. No wonder it’s the most popular spirit in the world.

Its blank canvas-ness is also helpful if you want to try infusions, like this marshmallow vodka or this peppermint vodka.

I’m looking forward to exploring vodka with you this month! Keep reading for my vodka guide! // susannah

A guide to vodka

Vodka is a grain alcohol, often associated with sweet, girly drinks like the Cosmopolitan or the brunch favorite Bloody Mary. One look at the liquor store shelves will tell you: this Russian beverage the world’s best-selling spirit. (Score one for Putin.)

In addition to the ever-popular Absolut, Smirnoff, Pinnacle and Grey Goose, there are more and more small distilleries making and selling vodka. Which is awesome. (I am all for the little guys, you know!)

A lot of the big names actually buy vodka from ethanol producers, bottle it in fancy bottles to sell it under their name. Not cool, right?

And those weird flavors? Yeah, those are most likely not natural. For example, a vanilla-flavored vodka might not contain any vanilla at all, but a flavor that’s like vanilla. (Kind-of gross, right? That’s why I like to make my own infusions.)

What is vodka?

Vodka is distilled from water and ethanol. The United States primarily makes ethanol from corn, but distillers sometimes use other fermented grains, potatoes or fruit. It is run a few times through a large column still, filtered, watered down to a bottling proof and bottled.

Also, for all you fellow word nerds out there: vodka means ‘little water’ in Russian. Voda is the word for ‘water,’ and the ‘k’ makes the word diminutive.

What is proof?

Let’s have a little lesson about proof for a minute.

In bartending school, they really honed in on this because it’s important to know how much alcohol is in any given spirit.

In the U.S., the proof number is twice the percentage of alcohol content. So, if you pick up a bottle that’s 80-proof, you know it is 40 percent alcohol. A bottled labeled 190-proof is 95 percent alcohol — and thus very dangerous.

You’ll see these numbers on vodka bottles, so keep them in mind for safe drinking.

What does vodka taste like?

Vodka is often described as cold, sharp, crisp, light, creamy, bland, clean, mellow or smooth.

Vodka brands

Popular brands: Absolut, Pinnacle, Grey Goose, Smirnoff, Charbay, Square One, Reyka, Stolichnaya, New Amsterdam, Belvedere, Ciroc, Skyy, Svedka, Tito’s

Feast + West favorites: Reyka, Pinnacle, Tito’s, TOPO (local)

Vodka cocktails

Starring roles: Martini, Cosmopolitan, Bloody Mary, Cape Codder, White Russian, Moscow Mule, Screwdriver

Feast + West drinks: Yule Mule // Frozen White Russian // Black Russian // Rosemary Champagne Cocktail // Champagne Jell-O Shots // Rhubarb Sour // Black-Eyed Susan // Cheerwine Cocktail // Vodka Gummy Bears

When is International Vodka Day?

International Vodka Day is October 4, 2015.

Further reading

(Sources // Serious Eats)

The Golden Ratio Guide:

Mix the perfect cocktail, every time

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