When we think about vodka, we often think potatoes. But not all vodka is made from potatoes. In fact, very few vodkas are made from potatoes. So, what is vodka made from?
Well, vodka is made from pretty much anything. That can be confusing, though. I mean, is corn vodka simply unaged bourbon? If almost anything can be made into vodka, then what makes vodka vodka?
Well, we’re here to tell you everything about vodka, and give you some vodkas to try that are distilled from various ingredients.
What is Vodka?
Vodka, by definition, is a neutral spirit. The original definition is said that vodka had to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color. However; in 2020 the TTB (The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) made some changes.
Vodka is now allowed to have distinctive characteristics and contain a small amount of sugar or citric acid. While this allows for a little more variability, vodka has remained a neutral spirit.
The defining attribute of vodka is the production method. Regardless of which grain, fruit, vegetable, or any other “agricultural product” that’s used, vodka MUST be distilled at, or above, 190 proof. That’s a whopping 95% ABV.
With 95% ethanol, you’re only left with so much room for variation. The product used for distillation will have an impact on the taste and texture, but the end product will be fairly neutral.
Is the only Difference between Vodka and Whiskey Aging?
Vodka can’t be aged in wood barrels. Per FoodandWine.com, the regulations allow for storing in paraffin-lined wood barrels for four years but then must be labeled as Bottled in Bond. Whiskey, on the other hand, must be aged in wooden barrels; however, there is no length requirement to this aging.
So, if I were to take a vodka made from grain, say Tito’s or Belvedere, and throw it in an oak cask for a day, is it now whiskey?
No. Aging in wooden casks may have a significant effect on whiskey and the difference in taste, especially when it’s aged for years, but the primary difference between whiskey and vodka, at least from a legal standpoint, is the proof of distillation.
Vodka must be distilled at 190 proof or above to maintain neutrality. America whiskey cannot be distilled above 160 proof. Scotch allows for distillation proof to be anything below 190, but it’s common practice to distill whiskey much closer to 120 proof to maintain as much flavor as you can.
What is Vodka Made From?
As we’ve mentioned, vodka can be made from anything – well at least any “agricultural product”. Below are a couple different vodkas produced by a variety of things.
Potato Vodka – Chopin, Karlsson’s, Luksusowa, Woody Creek
Potato made vodka only accounts for ~3% of all vodkas on the market, most of which are from Europe. Vodka originated in eastern Europe and Russia over a thousand years ago, and a couple hundred years ago they had an abundant supply of potatoes.
Naturally, they used their excess supply to make vodka. Present day, grains are cheaper and provide more consistency hence why it’s used much more. So, it’s more of a historical reason to group together potatoes and vodka than anything.
Corn Vodka – Tito’s and Smirnoff
Per VinePair, The best selling vodka in the world and the best selling vodka in the US are both made from corn. Corn, either a vegetable or a grain depending upon how it’s consumed – a grain when it comes to distillation – is very sweet.
An interesting piece of information is that Tito’s is the best selling vodka in the US but was unable to crack the top 20 for best selling vodkas in the world.
When it comes to vodka, we may think of potatoes first, but it seems that the people like their corn vodka.
Wheat Vodka – Absolut, Grey Goose, Ketel One
It is whiskey that must be made from grain, yet here we have a couple more grain vodkas that dominate the market – this time with wheat.
All three of these crack the top 10 best selling vodkas in the world.
Rye Vodka – Belvedere
Thought of in a similar light as Grey Goose, Belvedere makes it’s “premium” vodka using Polska Rye. Rye, the second most popular grain for American whiskeys, is known to provide different spices, as well as a bitter, earthy quality.
Rye is popular in the mountainous terrains of Europe and Canada as it grows quickly and just about anywhere.
Barley Vodka – Finlandia
To wrap up the vodkas made from your typical whiskey grains, we have Finlandia which uses 100% barley to make their vodka. Barley is the most popular grain used to make beer as well as Scotch and Irish whiskey.
Grape Vodka – Cîroc
Cîroc is distilled from grapes. It is still a vodka and not brandy or cognac which must use fruits or grapes respectively. Now, this isn’t a grape flavored vodka. It is neutral vodka distilled to 190 proof or above using a mash of grapes. They do produce flavored spirits as well, but all of them, regardless of flavor, use grapes to distill.
Blue Weber Agave Vodka – Crystal Head Onyx
Blue Weber Agave is a plant typically found in certain regions of Mexico. It is also the ONLY thing that can be used to make tequila. Well, you can’t make tequila outside of Mexico, but you can make vodka wherever you want, and you can use pretty much whatever you want, too.
Sugarcane Vodka – Felene, ROCK’N
Sugarcane…. the only grain (yes, sugarcane is a grass; therefore, a grain) allowed in production of rum. This sweet and sugary grain is also used to make vodka.
As you can tell, If it’s been used to make any other kind of spirit or alcohol, it’s been used to make vodka, too.
Breadfruit Vodka – Mutiny Island Reserve
According to online newspaper Keys Weekly, a Florida Keys agricultural company, Grimal Grove Reserve, had it’s stock of trees and crops wiped out by hurricanes in 2017. So, they decided to plant breadfruit trees because they are one of the only trees that can consistently withstand hurricane level winds.
This so called super food rots quickly, so they partnered up with a vodka brand to use their breadfruit in vodka. For those of you from the Keys, check out Mutiny Island Reserve Vodka.
If it’s naturally grown or produced, it can be distilled into vodka… and it likely already has.
Vodka has to have a neutral flavor, but different grains, fruits, vegetables impart a unique texture and profile upon the spirit. Vodka can have more syrupy sweetness to it by using corn or it can have a more earthen quality to it by using rye.
Honey, maple sap, peaches, milk, quinoa, peas, are all different ingredients that have been used to make vodka. Seriously…. Milk?!?!
There are two main aspects of vodka that make it vodka. First, it’s distilled at or above 190 proof – this gives us a neutral taste. Second, it’s unaged – this insures that it stays neutral. There will be subtle differences, but regardless of what it used, vodka will be a neutral spirit.
What is Vodka Made from?
Vodka can be made from any agricultural product. This includes any grain – corn, wheat, rye, barley, quinoa, sugarcane, etc. It includes any fruit, vegetable, plant, or any other “agricultural product”.
What is Tito’s Vodka Made from?
Tito’s Vodka is made from corn, and yes, it is gluten-free.
Why Do People Think Vodka Comes from Potatoes?
It’s more historical than factual. Vodka can be made from potatoes, but it’s more often made from grains.
Vodka was discovered and coined in the region of modern day Russia and Eastern Europe, and to this day, they drink a lot of it. We think of Russians when we think of vodka, in part, thanks to pop culture and Hollywood.
In the 17th century, Russia had a large supply of potatoes and began distilling vodka with their excess supply – similar to how America began creating bourbon using corn.
What is Grey Goose Vodka Made from?
Grey Goose Vodka is made from winter wheat.
What Vodka is Made from Potatoes?
There are a lot more Russian and eastern European vodkas that use potatoes, but some American brands you can easily find are:
Woody Creek Distillers, Zodiac Vodka, Blue Ice, Grand Teton, Boyd & Blair, Born and Bred.