Everything you Need to Know about Vodka (for Beginners)

Have you ever wanted to give vodka a try? This may sound like a daunting task, especially if you’ve never sampled vodka before or you’re just getting started on the path to better understanding the different types of alcohol out there. On the other hand, you might have tried some low-quality vodka when you were younger and found it less than appealing, leading you to believe it all tastes that way. Whatever brings you here, if you’re looking for an introduction to vodka and want to give it a chance (or a second chance), then we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll give you a quick rundown of vodka including what to expect when you buy it and what types you might find on the shelves of your local liquor store.

What is Vodka?

Chances are good you can recognize a bottle of vodka when you see it. But what is it really? This alcoholic beverage is neutral, meaning it doesn’t really have much of a taste on its own. Sure, there are plenty of flavored vodkas out there, but at its core this drink is a basic one that is often utilized as a building block for cocktails.
It’s widely believed that vodka originated in Russia, although Poland also claims the origination of this liquor. Historically, both Russia and Poland as well as Sweden were vital to the original creation, production, and distribution of vodka.

Although many believe vodka is only made from potatoes, it can actually be made from grains or fruit as well. Potatoes are the most common base for vodka, but depending on the style you purchase, it may have come from something else entirely. The different bases you may find in your vodka contribute to the different flavors and palates you may experience when you drink it. In the end, however, all vodka is fairly plain and neutral when it’s completed, unless it has something else added to it that is intended to change that.

  • Russian vodka is not made from potatoes, but it is in fact usually made from wheat. This is the most popular vodka worldwide.

  • Polish vodka is more commonly made from potatoes. Overall, the flavor is not a lot different from Russian vodka.

  • Parts of Europe utilize grains as the basis of their vodka distillation. However, if you buy vodka that comes from Italy or France, you can expect it to be made from fruit—usually grapes—and be somewhat different from the other starch-based variations of vodka available from elsewhere around the world.

  • American vodka is sometimes made from molasses, although this isn’t very common.

Types of Vodka

Now that you know a little bit about where vodka comes from and what it is (as well as a little about what it isn’t), it’s time to learn the types of vodka you might come across when you go shopping. This liquor isn’t exactly the same as a lot of others, in that there aren’t grading scales or major differences between higher and lower quality vodka. Of course, as with anything, you will still notice a taste difference when you purchase a pricey name brand versus a cheap off-brand. However, the difference is a bit more negligible with vodka than it is with other types of liquor, making this a good starting ground for those who are on a budget.
Here are the different types of vodka you may come across:

  • Neutral: Neutral, or clear, vodka is the basis of this liquor. This is the most common type you’ll find on the shelves of your liquor store and it’s most likely what you’ll use to build many cocktails. Neutral vodka comes in many different styles as well as different budgets, so you can easily stock up on some regardless of whether or not you’re shopping for something affordable or want something a little more elaborate and pricey to round out your collection of liquor. In the US, this type of vodka may be called classic.

  • Just because a vodka is classic, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to have the same alcohol content as its neighbor. Be sure to check the label, since different brands and styles of classic vodka may have different alcohol contents. You might also want to check the label to determine what your vodka is made from, particularly if you’re trying to avoid certain foods or substances that could be present in the drink.

  • Flavored: You’ve probably seen a lot of flavored vodka in stores as well. This is the type of vodka that tends to be popular with the younger crowd, especially those who want to do vodka shots. However, it’s also beneficial for anybody looking for something tasty and interesting to add to cocktails. Lemon or orange vodka is one of the most common and most popular flavored options in Russia, although there are several variants that are easy to find and readily available worldwide. Cranberry vodka is a flavor that has become more popular in recent years and is really taking off, especially among younger crowds that are looking for something unique to try in their cocktails.

  • Vodka by region: As with almost any type of liquor or alcohol, the region where vodka comes from makes a difference. Some people swear by vodka from a certain region over other types of vodka. In the end, this is down to personal preference; most agree, however, that European vodka is one of the best options out there. You can’t go wrong with getting vodka that comes from Poland or Russia, as well.

Now that you’ve had a chance to learn a little more about vodka, it’s time to reevaluate your relationship with this alcoholic beverage. Vodka may not be for everyone, and it may not be the most show-stopping addition to you liquor cabinet, either. But if you’re looking for the perfect base for cocktails or just want to try something a little different, don’t neglect vodka as a good place to begin.

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