About Vodka

About vodka

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Vodka is a distilled beverage and one of the world's most popular liquors. It is composed primarily of water and ethanol with traces of impurities and flavorings. Vodka is made from fermented substances like grain and potatoes.

Vodka's alcoholic content usually ranges between 35-50% by volume; the standard Polish, Russian and Lithuanian vodkas are 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof).

Historically, this alcoholic-proof standard derives from the Russian vodka quality standards established by Tsar Alexander III in 1894. The Muscovite Vodka Museum reports that chemist Dmitri Mendeleev determined the ideal alcohol content as 38%; however, because in that  time distilled spirits were taxed per their alcoholic strength, that  percentage was rounded upwards to 40% for simplified taxation  calculations.

For such a liquor to be denominated "vodka", governments establish a minimum alcohol content; the European Union established 37.5% alcohol by volume as the minimum alcohol content for European vodka.

Vodka is traditionally drunk neat in the vodka belt -

The name "vodka" is a diminutive form of the Slavic word voda (water), interpreted as little water.

The word "vodka" was recorded -for the first time in 1405 in the court documents from the Palatinate of Sandomierz in Poland; at these times the word referred to medicines and cosmetics. A number of Russian pharmaceutical lists contain the terms "vodka of bread wine"  and "vodka in half of bread wine". As alcohol had long been used as a basis for medicines, this implies that the term vodka could be a noun derived from the verb vodit, razvodit, "to dilute with water".

Bread wine was a spirit distilled from alcohol made from grain (as opposed to grape wine) and hence "vodka of bread wine" would be a water dilution of a distilled grain spirit.

While the word could be found in manuscripts and in lubok, it began to appear in Russian dictionaries in the mid-19th century.Another possible connection of "vodka" with "water" is the name of the medieval alcoholic beverage aqua vitae (Latin, literally, "water of life"), which is reflected in Polish "okowita".People in the area of vodka's probable origin have names for vodka with roots meaning "to burn".Another Slavic/Baltic archaic term for hard liquors was "green wine"

According to Gin and Vodka Association (GVA), the first distilled beverage similar to a crude brandy was produced in  Poland already in the 8th century, while the first 'identifiable' vodkas appeared in Poland in the 11th century. It was used often as medicine  and called 'gorzalka'.Encyclopedia Britannica writes that Vodka originated in Russia during the 14th century, but exact origins of vodka cannot be traced definitively. Vodka is  believed to have originated in the grain-growing region that now  embraces Poland, western Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine. It also has a long tradition in Scandinavia.

For many centuries beverages contained little alcohol. It is  estimated that the maximum amount was about 14% as only this amount is  reachable by means of natural fermentation. The still allowing for distillation - the "burning of wine" - was invented in the 8th century.

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Vodka is now one of the world's most popular spirits. It was rarely  consumed outside Europe before the 1950s. By 1975, vodka sales in the  United States overtook those of bourbon, previously the most popular hard liquor and the native spirit of the  country. In the second half of the 20th century, vodka owed its  popularity in part to its reputation as an alcoholic beverage that  "leaves you breathless", as one ad put it - no smell of liquor remains  detectable on the breath, and its neutral flavor allows it to be mixed  into a wide variety of drinks, often replacing other liquors  (particularly gin) in traditional drinks, such as the Martini.

According to The Penguin Book of Spirits and Liqueurs, "Its low level of fusel oils and congeners - impurities that flavour spirits but that can contribute to the  after-effects of heavy consumption - led to its being considered among  the 'safer' spirits, though not in terms of its powers of intoxication,  which, depending on strength, may be considerable."

Russian culinary author William Pokhlebkin compiled a history of the production of vodka in Russia during the late 1970s as part of the Soviet case in a trade dispute; this was later published as A History of Vodka. Pokhlebkin claimed that while there was a wealth of publications about  the history of consumption and distribution of vodka, virtually nothing  had been written about vodka production. Among his assertions were that  the word "vodka" was used in popular speech in Russia considerably  earlier than the middle of the 18th century, but the word did not appear in print until the 1860s.

Here we are going to describe how to produce vodka:

Vodka may be distilled from any starch/sugar-rich plant matter; most vodka today is produced from grains such as sorghum, corn, rye or wheat. Among grain vodkas, rye and wheat vodkas are generally considered superior. Some vodka is made from potatoes, molasses, soybeans, grapes, rice, sugar beets and sometimes even byproducts of oil refining or wood pulp processing.  In some Central European countries like Poland some vodka is produced by just fermenting a solution of crystal sugar and yeast. In the European Union there are talks about the standardization of vodka, and the Vodka Belt countries insist that only spirits produced from grains, potato and sugar beet molasses be allowed to be branded as "vodka", following the traditional methods of production.

Distilling and filtering

A common property of vodkas produced in the United States and Europe  is the extensive use of filtration prior to any additional processing,  such as the addition of flavourants. Filtering is sometimes done in the still during distillation, as well as afterwards, where the distilled vodka is filtered through charcoal and other media. This is because under U.S. and European law vodka must not have any distinctive aroma, character, colour or flavour. However, this is not the case in the traditional vodka producing  nations, so many distillers from these countries prefer to use very  accurate distillation but minimal filtering, thus preserving the unique  flavours and characteristics of their products.

The "stillmaster" is the person in charge of distilling the vodka and directing its filtration. When done correctly, much of the "fore-shots" and "heads" and the "tails" separated in the distillation process are  discarded. These portions of the distillate contain flavour compounds  such as ethyl acetate and ethyl lactate (heads) as well as the fusel oils (tails) that alter the clean taste of vodka. Through numerous rounds of distillation, or the use of a fractioning still, the taste of the vodka is improved and its clarity is enhanced. In some distilled liquors such as rum and baijiu, some of the heads and tails are not removed in order to give the liquor its unique flavour and mouth-feel.

Repeated distillation of vodka will make its ethanol level much  higher than is acceptable to most end users, whether legislation  determines strength limits or not. Depending on the distillation method  and the technique of the stillmaster, the final filtered and distilled  vodka may have as much as 95-96% ethanol. As such, most vodka is diluted with water prior to bottling. This level of distillation is what truly  separates a rye-based vodka (for example) from a rye whisky; while the whisky is generally only distilled down to its final alcohol  content, vodka is distilled until it is almost totally pure alcohol and  then cut with water to give it its final alcohol content and unique  flavour, depending on the source of the water.

Flavoring

Apart from the alcoholic content, vodkas may be classified into two main groups: clear vodkas and flavored vodkas. From the latter ones, one can separate bitter tinctures, such as Russian Yubileynaya (anniversary vodka) and Pertsovka (pepper vodka).

While most vodkas are unflavored, many flavored vodkas have been  produced in traditional vodka-drinking areas, often as home-made recipes to improve vodka's taste or for medicinal purposes. Flavorings include  red pepper, ginger, fruit flavors, vanilla, chocolate (without  sweetener), and cinnamon. In Russia and Ukraine, vodka flavored with honey and pepper (Pertsovka, in Russian, Z pertsem, in Ukrainian) is also very popular. Ukrainians produce a commercial vodka that includes St John's Wort. Poles and Belarusians add the leaves of the local bison grass to produce Zubrowka (Polish) and Zubrovka (Belarusian) vodka, with slightly sweet flavor and light amber color. In Poland, a famous vodka containing honey is called Krupnik. In the United States bacon vodka has been introduced.

This tradition of flavoring is also prevalent in the Nordic countries, where vodka seasoned with herbs, fruits and spices is the appropriate strong drink for midsummer seasonal festivities. In Sweden, there are forty-odd common varieties of herb-flavored vodka (kryddat brannvin). In Poland and Ukraine there is a separate category (nalyvka in Ukraine and nalewka in Poland), for vodka-based spirits with fruit, root, flower, or herb  extracts, which are often home-made or produced by small commercial  distilleries. Its alcohol content is between 15 to 75%. In Estonia they  make Vodka with barbaris, blackcurrant, cherry, greenapple, lemon,  vanilla and watermelon flavors.

Polish distilleries make a very pure (95%, 190 proof) rectified spirit (Polish language: spirytus rektyfikowany). Technically a form of vodka, it is sold in liquor stores, not  pharmacies. Similarly, the German market often carries German,  Hungarian, Polish, and Ukrainian-made varieties of vodka of 90 to 95%  alcohol content. A Bulgarian vodka, Balkan 176░, is 88% alcohol.

European Union regulation

The recent success of grape-based vodka in the United States has prompted traditional vodka producers in the Vodka Belt countries of Poland, Finland, Lithuania, and Sweden to campaign for EU legislation that will categorize only spirits made from grain or potatoes as "vodka." This proposition has provoked heavy criticism from south European countries, which often distill used mash from wine-making into spirits; although higher quality mash is usually distilled into some variety of pomace brandy, lower-quality mash is better turned into a neutral-flavored spirits  instead. Any vodka then not made from either grain or potatoes would  have to display the products used in its production. This regulation was adopted by the European Parliament on June 19, 2007.

Health

Excess consumption of vodka can be lethal by inducing respiratory  failure or unguarded inhalation of vomit by a comatose drunk person. In  addition, the effects of alcohol are responsible for many traumatic  injuries such as falls and vehicle accidents. Consumption of alcohol  above 0.1 Blood alcohol content can cause dehydration, digestive irritation, and other symptoms associated with alcohol intoxication and hangover, and the chronic effects can include liver failure due to cirrhosis, and it is associated with many GI cancers (particularly oral cavity). In  addition to ethanol, methanol, fusel oils (not present in pure vodka), and esters can contribute to hangovers.

In some countries black-market vodka or "bathtub" vodka is widespread because it can be produced easily and avoid taxation. However, severe poisoning, blindness, or death can occur as a result of dangerous industrial ethanol substitutes being added by black-market producers. In March 2007, BBC News UK made a documentary to find the cause of severe jaundice among imbibers of a "bathtub" vodka in Russia. The cause was suspected to be an industrial disinfectant (Extrasept) - 95% ethanol but also containing a highly toxic chemical - added to  the vodka by the illegal traders because of its high alcohol content and low price. Death toll estimates list at least 120 dead and more than  1,000 poisoned. The death toll is expected to rise due to the chronic  nature of the cirrhosis that is causing the jaundice.

 

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References:

  • Begg, Desmond. The Vodka Companion: A Connoisseur's Guide. Running: 1998. ISBN 0-7624-0252-0.
  • Pokhlebkin, William and Clarke, Renfrey (translator). A History of Vodka. Verso: 1992. ISBN 0-86091-359-7.
  • Delos, Gilbert. Vodkas of the World. Wellfleet: 1998. ISBN 0-7858-1018-8.
  • Lingwood, William, and Ian Wisniewski. Vodka: Discovering, Exploring, Enjoying. Ryland, Peters, & Small: 2003. ISBN 1-84172-506-4.
  • Price, Pamela Vandyke. The Penguin Book of Spirits and Liqueurs. Penguin Books, 1980. Chapter 8 is devoted to vodka.
  • Broom, Dave. Complete Book of Spirits and Cocktails, Carlton Books Ltd: 1998. ISBN 1-85868-485-4
  • Faith, Nicholas and Ian Wisniewski Classic Vodka, Prion Books Ltd.: 1977. ISBN 1-85375-234-7
  • Rogala, Jan. Gorza┼éka czyli historia i zasady wypalania mocnych trunk├│w, Baobab: 2004. ISBN 83-89642-70-0

 

 

 

 

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