Vodka: The Ultimate Guide to Your Favorite Mixed Liquor
Besides tequila, vodka has been around the longest out of all the hard liquors. However, in the United States, vodka has only been around for about 100 years. Before that, it was mostly consumed in Eastern Europe. Now, it is widely considered to be the most versatile type of alcohol thanks to how well it pairs with flavors of all kinds.
Some liquors only pair well with certain flavors, but this isn’t the case for vodka. People love vodka because it goes with everything. On top of that, there’s a vodka for every budget: from top-shelf brands like Ciroc and Grey Goose to more inexpensive brands like Smirnoff and Svedka to in-betweeners like Tito’s.
If you have an interest in vodka, then there is a lot to learn. There’s no denying it’s a really great liquor, especially for mixed drinks. But what about its history? And how is it made? What are some brands you should consider buying? We will answer all these questions (and a whole lot more) in Saucey’s ultimate guide on vodka.
What Is Vodka?
Vodka is a distilled liquor that is always clear in color (unless there are added colors or flavors). It does not have a distinct flavor or taste, because most flavors are removed during the distillation process. The alcohol content of vodka can range from 40 to 55%, depending on how it is made and how many times it is distilled.
Unlike other liquors, vodka is the only spirit that almost always is distilled multiple times. Other distilled spirits like tequila and rum, for example, should not be distilled more than twice in order to preserve their flavor.
The History of Vodka
The biggest debate when it comes to vodka is whether it originated in Russia or Poland. Both countries lay claim to its creation, but it’s tricky to confirm. There is one undisputed fact, which is that vodka was widespread in Russia in the 14th century. Unfortunately, before then, there is no concrete information regarding its origins. Some historians believe it originated in the 8th century, and others believe that it originated in the 9th century—so who’s to say?
Potatoes were typically used when vodka was first created. This was especially true in Russia, Latvia, and Poland because these places have harsh climates that make it difficult to grow certain crops. Over a period of many years, it was discovered that certain grains could be used for distilling instead of potatoes. Today, both countries use mostly grain for their vodka, because it is much easier to harvest than potatoes.
These days, both Russia and Poland produce several brands of well-known vodka. They are known around the world for producing some of the best vodka brands available.
How Is Vodka Made?
The process of making vodka is nearly identical to processes for making rum and tequila. The biggest difference is that vodka is not aged, whereas rum and tequila will age in oak barrels as the final step in the production process. The aging helps to infuse flavor and color. With straight vodka, you don’t actually want tons of extra flavorings.
It is distilled and filtered to purify the vodka and remove strong flavors, along with any color. This is why all vodka is clear in color (except for brands that add dyes and coloring after the production process). There are some that have various fruit essences (for example), but they tend to be very toned down flavors.
Both potato vodka and grain vodka are created the same way. There are four main steps in the process of creating vodka, which we explain in detail below. Following these steps is the only real guideline producers have, so a lot of companies do things in their own way while adhering to the four steps.
This is arguably the most important step in any alcohol production process because the fermentation phase actually creates alcohol in a drink. Without fermentation, you would basically be drinking potato or grain water.
This process occurs when you add yeast to the mash, which is a word for the mushed-up base being used for the vodka. The yeast eats away at any sugar that is present, resulting in alcohol.
Next, you need to distill it. This process happens when the alcohol is pumped into stills (copper stills or pot stills) and then heated. When distillers heat the vodka, it releases vapors from the alcohol. These vapors condense while in the still, which helps to remove impurities.
Distillation is also responsible for making vodkas taste smooth. The more distillation, the smoother it will be.
This is the stage in which water is added to the vodka to dilute it. This is done to bring the alcohol content in the vodka down to its final proof. Typically, vodkas range in proof from 80 (which is 40% alcohol by volume) to 176 (which is 88% alcohol by volume).
This is the final phase in the vodka production process before it is bottled and ready to be sold. Even though the distillation process does a great job of removing impurities and other substances, filtration ensures nothing gets left behind. To filter vodka, it runs through activated charcoal (or something similar) which absorbs any substance that will alter the taste or feel of the vodka.
No matter what brand or type of vodka it is, it will go through each of these steps in order to be drinkable and sellable. In the United States, all types of vodka must have a minimum ABV of 40%.
When Did Vodka Become Popular in the U.S.?
Surprisingly, most Americans didn’t know about vodka until around the 1930s and they typically associated it with Slavic countries. Up until the Second World War, it was primarily consumed in Balkan states and was not well-known or used outside of these Eastern European countries. Even other countries in Europe were not drinking vodka until it gained popularity in the United States.
After the war, people wanted cheap alcohol that was easy to produce. Vodka was the solution that people were looking for. Vodka is a very neutral spirit and there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to ingredients, which is part of why it is so inexpensive.
What Vodka Brand Should You Use?
The answer to this question is, really, whatever brands you like. As with all spirits, personal preference is the only factor that truly matters. That said, if you’re still on the lookout for your favorite vodka brand, we’d like to throw some contenders into the ring. There are several vodka brands that are very popular and considered to be some of the best in the world. Some brands are over one hundred years old, while others are newer and have only been around for a few years.
There are some key things to note when you’re trying to tell if your vodka is high-quality. The distillation process is important because it purifies the vodka and gives it that smooth and crisp taste vodka is known for. Typically, the more times vodka is distilled, the higher-quality it will be (that’s not always the case, but it’s a good general rule of thumb). Another thing to note is what ingredients are included. Look to see if there are a bunch of additives, unnatural flavorings, dyes, or anything similar.
If quality matters to you, then ingredients are important for determining whether or not the vodka is high-quality. Typically, the fewer ingredients, the better. You want to look for simple and clean ingredients because that is what is going to give you the cleanest, smoothest taste when you’re drinking. Of course, there are always going to be brands that are just meant for being used as mixers. That’s totally fine; it’s just good to know the difference between types of vodka and how you can determine the quality of it.
We’ve put together a list of some of the most popular brands of vodka. These are brands that are continuously considered crowd favorites. Whether you are at a bar, club, or restaurant, you can pretty much guarantee these brands will be there. If you are unfamiliar with vodka brands, then this list will be a great place to start. Here are seven of our favorite brands:
Smirnoff is a classic vodka, and for good reason. This 80 proof vodka has been one of the most-loved brands since the moment that it arrived in the United States from Russia. It’s been around since the 1860s, when Pyotr Smirnov opened a distillery in Moscow.
Its range of vodkas has proofs of anywhere from 70 to 100, depending on the variety. While its original, unflavored vodka is often enjoyed over ice, its wide variety of flavored vodkas are fantastic in mixed drinks for an extra flavor kick.
This brand is arguably the most well-known Swedish vodka. The brand was started in 1998, and it has become the fastest-growing imported vodka in the United States! Svedka is distilled five times, which is what gives it an extra pure, crisp, and clean taste. It is made with Swedish winter wheat and goes down smooth, which is why people love it so much.
As with Smirnoff, Svedka comes in tons of unique flavors. One of the most interesting flavors is Grapefruit Jalapeno. All of the flavors, fruity and otherwise, are great for coming up with your own cocktail recipes.
Grey Goose is another brand that developed in the ‘90s—1997 to be exact—and it is known for being a premium vodka brand. One of the things it is most known for is being used in high-end club nights for bottle service.
Grey Goose uses only the highest-quality ingredients. This French brand is made from winter wheat and spring water. And while it is popular for bottle service at the club, we are sure it will be just as popular at your home bar.
This vodka is made at a distillery in France. Ciroc was founded in 2003, so it’s a relatively newer brand. It is fantastic for shots as well as mixed drinks.
It is one of the more uniquely flavored vodkas because it is infused with strawberry and raspberry essences. People really enjoy it for this reason; the fruit flavors really come through and make for an enjoyable drinking experience. It is 80 proof and comes in a ton of other fruity flavors, such as Pineapple, Watermelon, Raspberry, and Peach.
Here we have yet another brand that was created in the ‘90s boom of vodka. Since its creation in 1997, it has grown to become one of the most popular vodka companies in the United States.
One of the things Tito’s is most known for is making high-quality, gluten-free vodka. In fact, Tito’s was the first major vodka brand to popularize the gluten-free vodka variety. Its distillation process takes place in old-fashioned pot stills, which is what helps to give it a truly unique taste. Plus, you can’t go wrong with a Tito’s and lemonade mixed drink; it’s just the best!
Absolut vodka changes things up a bit and uses wheat grown in southern Sweden, where many other companies use winter wheat or northern wheat. This Swedish company (one of the biggest competitors of Svedka) is a veteran vodka company, having been founded in 1979. They hit the ground running with unique and bold marketing schemes, such as selling their vodka in a label-less, medicine bottle-inspired glass bottle. This 80-proof vodka is loved all over the world, and they sell over 100 million liters globally.
New Amsterdam is actually the newest brand on our list. It was founded in 2011 as a sister company to New Amsterdam gin. It truly is one of the smoothest vodkas on the market because it is distilled five times. On top of that, it is filtered three separate times, giving it a smooth finish.
Even though it has only been around for a decade, it is still a huge global competitor in the vodka market. Another huge bonus is that it doesn’t have an expensive, premium-brand price tag, but it tastes as it does.
Classic Vodka Cocktails
Now you know the background of vodka—how it’s made, the history of it, and some of the brands you should be sipping on. What’s next? We suggest you stock up on supplies and start making some classic vodka cocktails. The best way to become an expert is by trying several different brands and making your own drinks.
As we mentioned earlier, vodka is the most versatile liquor. It will mix well with, quite literally, any flavor you can think of. Sweet, savory, creamy, you name it, and vodka will mix with it. That’s what makes it so much fun when it comes to making cocktails. There are easily hundreds of recipes out there for vodka cocktails, but we made a list of some classic recipes that we think you will love as much as we do.
Vodka martinis are fun drinks to make, and they’re even more fun to drink. You can experiment with any flavored liqueurs you like! If you like the classics, you can’t go wrong with a traditional olive martini. Or, you can try any fruit flavor martini that sounds tasty to you. Some people even get creative and try out recipes such as an espresso martini or a sour apple martini.
Whichever flavor you choose, don’t forget the martini glass. It just doesn’t taste the same without it. Here are the ingredients you will need to make a classic martini:
- Dry vermouth
- Citrus peel for garnish
Start by adding vodka that has been in the freezer (you want it to be extra chilled) and dry vermouth to a shaker. Now, shake for at least 60 seconds or until a frost forms on the shaker. Then, use the strainer attachment to pour the drink into a martini glass. Finally, finish with a twist of lemon, lime, or orange for garnish.
The original Cosmopolitan drink is famous for having a bright, fun pink hue with a tangy lemony flavor. What you might not know is that there are several variations of it that experiment with different flavors (and colors, too!). We don’t think anything is as good as the original, though. It is fresh, clean, and has the perfect amount of tartness. You will need four ingredients to make this drink.
Making this drink is as easy as one, two, three. All you have to do is add all of the ingredients to a shaker. Shake until chilled, and then strain into a chilled glass and add an orange peel for garnish.
The Vodka Soda
So, this isn’t exactly a cocktail, per se, but we still think the Vodka Soda deserves a spot on this list. It’s actually a super underrated vodka drink. If you are on a diet or trying to watch your sugar intake, this is a great drink for you. Also, it is, by far, the easiest drink to whip up, which just makes it even better. You will need:
- Soda, soda water, or tonic
- Lemon or lime
Fill up a glass with ice. Then, add the desired amount of vodka. Pour your mixer of choice over the vodka and ice. The last step is to squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice into the drink and add a wedge for garnish.
The Bloody Mary
The Bloody Mary is a staple you can find on any brunch menu. For the drink itself, you’ll just need three ingredients, but this can change depending on what you add in.
The fun part comes in when you’re picking your toppings. You can add celery sticks, pickles, a sprinkle of cayenne pepper or hot sauce, shrimp, bacon, or olives. Make sure you get super creative and add on all of your favorites. Here’s what you need to make the perfect Bloody Mary:
- Tomato juice
- Worcestershire sauce
You can use a shaker with a strainer or not, depending on your preference. If you choose that method, then just put the three ingredients in a shaker with ice and strain over a glass with ice. If not, you can put everything directly into a glass with ice and just stir it well with a spoon. Finish things off by adding all of those fun toppings!
The Moscow Mule
Here is a very fun fact for you: did you know that the brand Smirnoff actually created the Moscow Mule cocktail in 1941? Smirnoff was very popular at the time and was really taking off in the US, so they wanted to create a recipe that would keep their popularity going.
The Moscow Mule is a common drink that can be found pretty much anywhere that serves alcohol all over the world. People like it because it’s a little fizzy, which helps to cover up the strong taste of alcohol. You just need three ingredients to make this tasty drink.
- Fresh lime juice
- Ginger beer (not ginger ale)
First, fill up an iconic copper mug with crushed ice. Then, pour a ginger beer over the crushed ice. Do not use ginger ale! Trust us; it’s not the same thing. Finally, add in your vodka and stir well. Top everything off with a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a lime wedge to garnish if you desire.
The White Russian
The White Russian is a really interesting cocktail recipe. It combines two ingredients that you would probably never think to put together- milk and vodka. However, this is the perfect drink to make for people who do not like fruity vodka cocktails, but still want a touch of something sweet. It only takes three ingredients, which makes it simple and easy to make. Here’s what you’ll need to make a White Russian:
- Cream or milk
First, you will take a glass with ice and add the cream or milk into it. Then, follow that up with your favorite vodka. The final step is to top it all off with a splash (or however much you want) of Kahlua. This drink is meant to be sipped slowly and enjoyed!
The Salty Dog
For the grapefruit lovers out there, this one’s for you. Similar to the tequila cocktail called the Paloma, the Salty Dog is great for anyone who enjoys tart and bitter tastes with a kick. You only need two main ingredients, and two more ingredients for serving the drink. Be ready to pucker up, because it is extra tart! Here’s what you’ll need:
- Grapefruit juice (preferably freshly squeezed)
The instructions couldn’t be simpler. All you have to do is combine the vodka and grapefruit juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until the mixture is chilled, and then pour into a tall glass. Finally, rim the glass with salt and a lime wedge, and you are ready to go.
Find The Right Vodka For You With Saucey
The good news is you made it through this article and (hopefully) learned a lot about vodka. There’s even more to learn, too; in fact, you can learn a ton more about any of the topics we covered in this article. For example, the in-depth history of vodka and its creation is really fascinating. There’s also a lot more to know about vodka’s popularity in America after World War II. Really, there is a lot to know!
Now that you’ve read through the ultimate guide for vodka, there’s only one thing left for you to do. If you want to be a real vodka expert, you are going to need to start tasting and mixing it. The best way to do this is to practice, practice, practice! You are going to need to pick up some supplies before you start your journey to become the next great vodka mixologist.
First things first: head to Saucey and check out our vodka home delivery section. We have hundreds of options to choose from, with different sizes, flavors, brands, and types of vodka. You will never run out of options, and it’s more than likely that we have the vodka you are looking for. Start by browsing everything so you can figure out which brands you want to buy. Once you’ve narrowed it down, start shopping!
Add all the vodka options you want to your cart, and then, once you’re done, head over to the checkout page. There, you will enter your information before choosing your delivery options. You can choose to have your order delivered as soon as possible, or you can schedule it for a time that is more convenient for you. Place your order, and then it’s time to wait for its arrival.
While you wait, get everything ready. Mixers, shakers, cups, ice should all be out and ready to go. Make sure you have your recipes pulled up as well! Then, when your order arrives, simply show your ID at the door to prove you’re the legal drinking age, and then you’re good to go. You are one step closer to being a vodka cocktail master!