Vodka is the king of spirits. It is the most popular form of alcohol worldwide.
An article by LiveScience claims that over 1.17 billion gallons of vodka were ingested in 2012, more than any other spirit. Most everyone who drinks spirits has had an experience with vodka. One can remember sharing a bottle of Burnette’s or McCormick’s among friends in college or downing shots of Grey Goose to celebrate something. And yes, many remember the hangovers that come with drinking too much of these vodkas.
Vodka is created through a unique distillation and fermentation process – perfected over the years by vodka makers. New technology has helped companies like ours streamline the process and perfect their vodka to an even greater extent. But exactly how is vodka made?
We understand the question – grain and water go in and delicious, crisp alcohol comes out?
It’s hard to make sense of the whole thing.
Imagine how humans figured it out in the first place…
THE HISTORY OF VODKA
Before answering the question of how is vodka distilled, let’s talk about where it comes from. The word ‘vodka’ comes from the Russian word for water, which is ‘voda.’ Now obviously, there are a few distinct differences between water and vodka – you don’t want to mistake one for another.
Exactly where and when it was originally created is still a mystery. The generally accepted consensus is that it originated somewhere in Poland, Russia, or Sweden. Britannica Encyclopedia states that some claim that vodka was around as early as the 8th Century.
In 1430, the Russian monk Isidore created the first Russian vodka recipe. It was a low-alcohol content recipe, as it was modeled after the European wine. Originally used as medicine as well as spirit, vodka was thought to help the Russian people deal with the cold. The people of Poland and Sweden also began making their own vodkas around the same era.
Distillation and creation varied among countries and distillers, but the root process was always relatively the same – starches and sugars are fermented then distilled, then cut with water.
Vodka creation and ingestion have grown exponentially since its humble beginnings – in the United States, over 74 million 9-liter cases were sold in 2019.
HOW IS VODKA MADE?
Before we get too deep into the science, there are a few words that we should define:
- Fermentation: a process in which an agent causes an organic substance to break down into simpler substances; especially, the anaerobic breakdown of sugar into alcohol.
- Distillation: the process of purifying a liquid by successive evaporation and condensation.
HOW IS VODKA FERMENTED?
The first process of creating vodka is the fermentation of starches or sugars with yeast. Typically grains are used for the fermentation process – but potatoes, fruits, or other starches and sugars can be used to create alcohol.
The grains are combined with water and then heated. Yeast is added to the mix to begin fermentation. Yeast breaks down sugar and starches to their simpler elements – the byproducts are carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol. The chemistry of exactly how that happens is much more confusing – suffice it to say that when yeast goes in, alcohol comes out. The fermented product is filtered and solids are removed.
This fermentation process is used across the world for making spirits. Many different types of yeast and ingredients are used to create unique products.
HOW IS VODKA DISTILLED?
But fermentation is just the beginning of the process. The alcohol byproduct that comes from fermenting has a low ABV (alcohol by volume), so the distillation process begins in order to raise the ABV and qualify the drink as a spirit.
The alcohol is heated in a still, where it is refined and any impurities are removed. The goal is to create a neutral-flavored, high-alcohol content liquid without any impurities. The distillation process uses heat to remove the alcohol from the liquid – alcohol has a lower boiling temperature. The steam is collected at the top of the still, and the byproduct at the bottom is discarded. The steam is then condensed back into a liquid and collected.
Many vodkas go through this distillation process more than once – many distillers believe the more vodka is distilled, the higher the quality. As a Colorado distillery, Switch Vodka, we use iStill, which is a modern take on distillation that allows more control over the distillation process.
The distilled alcohol that comes out has a much higher ABV than your average vodka – it can get up to 95 percent alcohol, which is 190 proof. For reference, in the United States, it is typically around 40 percent alcohol or 80 proof.
The alcohol is then cut with water to create the final product – a clear, odorless liquid with a strong alcohol content – better known as vodka.
Flavorings are sometimes added during the production process to create flavored vodkas that have become very popular over the years.
HOW LONG IS VODKA DISTILLED?
Ah, we sense a DIYer in our midst! That’s great to hear you’re enthusiastic, but there’s on thing we really need to clear up before answering this question:
Distilling at home is illegal in many places, so please please check your local laws.
That being said, it generally takes a few weeks, but it really depends on what kind of equipment you have, and how fancy you want to get with a lot of the different aspects. If you want to hear more than you’ll ever need to know, pay us a visit at our tasting room to hear how it all works.
HOW IS VODKA MADE FROM POTATOES?
When you’re at a party and people are discussing how different types of alcohol are made, it’s pretty likely that someone will ask “how is vodka distilled?”
Inevitably, some know-it-all will jump in to say that it’s made from potatoes, and that’s your cue to set the record straight. Vodka can be made from potatoes, and there are a small percentage of companies that still do it this way. But, most of it is made from some other starchy or sugary plant, such as grain, corn, or wheat.
A lot of this mix up comes from where the vodka is made. Some regions don’t have potatoes, but those thirsty people still want to distill something for a cocktail…
So when the follow-up question of “what alcohol is made from potatoes?” comes up, you can save that know-it-all’s ego a bit by saying very few, but some vodka brands.
TYPES OF VODKA
Potato or not, there are a really two different primary types of vodka:
This one should be pretty obvious. This is vodka in it’s purest form. This is generally a go-to for cocktails since it doesn’t have any extra flavor to take over. But think of that as more of a guideline than a rule, because many cocktails will do better with a specific flavor already in the vodka.
You’ll often see people list these as two different types, but there’s a good reason we’re grouping them together right here. And that reason is that nearly everyone has their own opinion, and they often contradict each other.
But the bottom line is that a flavored or diffused vodka has some other ingredient placed in it during the fermentation or distilling process, or sometime after. This may sound like a gimic to sell more bottles, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! Many of these recipes date back to the old world creation of vodka.
For example, Sweden has nearly 50 different types of kryddat brännvin that’s made various combinations of fruits, spices, and herbs. People from Poland and Belarus like to make theirs with bison grass, and there’s a popular variation in Russia that has pepper and honey in it.
We could go on and on about the different types of vodka, but we’ll keep it simple with these two categories for today.
HOW SWITCH IS DIFFERENT
It is distilled using modern technology called iStill. This technology allows the distillers to perfect their alcohol using precise and automated measurements, temperatures, and timing. Every detail in the vodka-making process is controlled, exacted, and perfected by the makers of Switch.
The end result is a crisp-tasting, light vodka free of impurities and low in calories. Switch Vodka is produced differently than other vodkas because we want our product to be different, and it is – in a great way.
Switch Vodka is low-calorie, perfect for those who like to take care of their bodies, but also like to have fun. Made free of additives and preservatives, Switch is a truly natural and unparalleled vodka. The unique distillation process even helps your hangovers – less time spent with a pounding headache is a win in everyone’s book. Any flavorings are natural and introduced into the distilling process (Palisade peaches, basil, lemongrass, pomegranate are all infused into the vodka using cheesecloth and other techniques).
The vodka is made to be compatible with the Colorado lifestyle – healthy, active, and fun. We believe we’ve made the perfect Colorado spirit (but we’re biased, so check us out).
For anyone interested in trying, check out the rest of our website for details. Or for the more adventurous – this is Colorado after all – head to our distillery near Chatfield State Park to get a look at the amazing production process first-hand and a chance to try your new favorite vodka. We can even do tours so you can see firsthand how vodka is made.
And bring your friends, they’ll be impressed when they ask “how is vodka distilled,” and you already know the answer.