The surprising process through which vodka is made

Don’t you sometimes wonder how vodka is made? Well, you’ve come to exactly the right place to find out. Vodka as you probably know is made from ingredients that can be fermented, like potatoes, grains, and sugar beet molasses. These ingredients also give vodka its distinct flavour. Vodka ingredients also depend on the country in which it is being manufactured and local produce dictates what the manufacturers use. So, you would find the people of Finland favouring barley and Russians having their favourite as wheat.

So how is vodka made?

Fermentation

The Fermentation forms the basis of manufacturing vodka irrespective of the ingredient being used. It is the process of culturing yeast to produce alcohol. The process differs slightly based on the ingredient being used. 

Ingredients that have sugar content in them

When there is sugar content in the ingredient being used, they can be directly fermented. It is very easy to ferment fruits like grapes and molasses. The skin of grapes has yeast cells and you can activate the yeast simply by crushing the grapes. 

Vodka made from grains

When making vodka from grains, the grain is heated and turned into a mash by adding water. To break down the starch into simple sugars (mainly glucose along with the small amount of maltose), enzymes like Amylase and diastase are added. Once the starch breaks into fermentable sugars, it leaves the grain and mixes with the water which is then drained and used as the fermentation base. This liquid base is known as ‘wash’. 

When the raw material is potatoes

The very first step is cleaning and scrubbing the peel off the potatoes as they cannot be fermented with the skin on. The peeled potatoes are chopped and heated to turn them into a mash using steam. This helps in gelatinizing the starch in the potatoes. The mashing process helps in conversion of the starch to fermentable sugars and when the potatoes are broken down into a runny mash the enzymes used later become more effective. These enzymes are added to the mash after it has been cooled down to 60 degrees C or 140 degrees F. The mixture is then further cooled to bring down the temperature to 30 degrees C and then yeast is added to it.

Neutral spirit addition and rectification

Most vodka distillers buy neutral spirit from agricultural distillers for adding it to the ‘wash’. A neutral spirit does not contain any off notes or odours from the alcoholic spirit used to make it.

Distillation process

Pot still the process is considered a finishing or polishing process for vodka. It adds character to the vodka and gives it a rounding effect. Most premium vodka brands use the pot still distillation process even today while many have moved onto the modern column distillation process. These premium brands use column still spirit and then redistill it in a column still. The work of stills is to heat the fermented, relatively-low alcoholic ‘wash’ to a temperature greater than the boiling point of alcohol but lesser than the boiling point of water. This leads to vaporization of the alcohol but not water. The distilled liquid is collected after the condensation of the vapours in the stills. 

Finishing

The distilled liquid is passed through an activated carbon filter to remove unwanted volatile flavours and aromas. Purified water is then added to the distillate to reach the desired alcohol percentage.

How does vodka derive its distinct flavour?

The flavour in vodka comes from the main ingredient used in it and each one lends a unique characteristic to it. According to European Union regulations, if vodka is made from anything other than the standard ingredients like potato and wheat; it must be specified on the label of the bottle.

Barley 

It gives a sort of bready and slightly nutty flavour. There is brioche sweetness to this vodka.

Wheat

The subtle aniseed flavour is derived from wheat. It feels like a mix of pepper and lemon zest. Wheat is one of the widely used ingredients for making Vodka.

Rye

This one has the flavour of Brazil nuts. So if you are a fan of nutty-flavoured vodka you should pick one made from rye.

Maize corn

This is a ‘you get what you see’ kind of vodka as you get slightly buttery corn on the cob flavour in this one. 

Potato

Vodka made from potato feels creamier and fuller and you might get a veggie drift from it. This is because the potato variety which is used for making vodka has high starch content in it.

Grapes 

This one gives out a strong lemon zest flavour. So don’t just select your vodka based on what ingredient you see on the label.

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