The Ultimate Vodka Guide
What is vodka? Where does vodka come from? How is vodka made? What is vodka made from? In this guide, you’ll learn everything about vodka!✍️ June 28, 2020
- What is vodka?
- What does vodka mean?
- Where does vodka come from?
- What is vodka made from?
- How is vodka made?
- How to drink vodka?
- Does vodka contain gluten?
- What is “flavored vodka”?
- What are the best vodka mixers?
- Cooking with vodka?
- Is vodka vegetarian / vegan?
- Black Russian
- Bloody Mary
- Vodka Crusta
- Long Island Ice(d) Tea
- Sea Breeze
- Sex on the Beach
- Vodka from Corn
What is vodka?
Vodka is a (usually) clear spirit originally made in Eastern Europe from grain, with an alcohol content of roughly 40% vol. / 80 proof.
What does vodka mean? Where does the word vodka come from?
Vodka comes from the Slavic languages of Eastern Europe and is derived from their common word “voda” (or vada), which means water. The vodka is the diminutive, meaning the “little water”. Vodka is either called “little water” because of its similarity at first glance to water, or because it’s so strong immediately after distillation that it must be diluted to drinking strength with a little quantity of water. While some languages, notably Polish, spell it “wodka” with a “w”, the English word vodka with “v” comes directly from Russian.
Where does vodka come from?
Vodka, or at least the word, definitely comes from Eastern Europe. Especially Poland and Russia are discussed as the countries of origin. Yet, the technique for distilling alcohol is much older than vodka as we know it today.
The discovery of “burning water”
The first evidence for distillation procedures is thousands of years old and comes from Mesopotamia. After the techniques were first refined in Arabia towards the end of the first millennium, the knowledge about the creation of “burning water” spread across Europe from Byzantium and Italy in the Middle Ages.
At first, distilled alcohol was not used as a beverage but as a medical product, mixed with herbs, spices or honey.
Then, in the late Middle Ages, as the art of distilling alcohol became more and more perfected and food supply improved, more and more food was used to produce high-proof spirits instead of consumption. While in Southern Europe, fruits such as wine were often used. In Northern and Eastern Europe, it was mainly cereals, and especially rye. Rye is still considered one of the best raw materials for the production of vodka and is appreciated in Eastern Europe for the sweet taste that good quality rye vodka features.
Once the genie was out of the bottle and the knowledge of how to make vodka had spread in the East, especially in Russia, it was literally impossible to close the bottle again. Throughout the early modern era, the tsars tried in vain to restrict the production and sale of vodka. Outside the Slavic cultural area, however, vodka was almost unknown. In Northern Europe and Germany, grain or brandy was consumed, and further south the art of distilling fruit spirits was cultivated.
Vodka in modern culture
Today’s more famous vodka brands usually feature a very neutral taste, unless it is flavored with artificial aromas (flavored vodka). Originally, vodka - similar to other corn spirits such as e.g. German Kornbrand - was by no means neutral in taste, but had its own, especially cereal aroma. Even today there are still many small distilleries in Eastern Europe that produce such traditional vodka and especially in rural areas, these are often more appreciated than their modern descendants. But also larger international brands are partly starting to remember these old distilling traditions and are bringing out corresponding special brandies. This kind of vodka with “more flavor” is called “Eastern Style” by experts, in contrast to neutral “Western Style” vodkas.
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The history of vodka is a history of constant exchange between East and West. After vodka had been a mainly inner-Russian phenomenon for centuries, an “immigrant” from South America finally reached Eastern Europe with some delay in the 19th century: the potato. The potato, which many people today regard as the epitome of vodka production, was thus originally a foreigner. However, the cheap and abundant plant now made it possible to produce even larger quantities of vodka even more cheaply - with often drastic consequences for quality. The abundance of cheap spirits that flooded the market had two effects: on the one hand, the state redoubled its efforts to obtain the monopoly on production as far as it could (which led to a corresponding upswing in moonshine production). On the other hand, a characteristic of modern vodka started to develop. Since cheaply produced vodka from potatoes was often difficult to consume in terms of taste, it became increasingly popular to filter these spirits to mask the inferior quality of the raw material. The rather neutral vodkas that most of us know nowadays - today called “Western Style” - were created.
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In the 20th century the vodka “emigrated”. Tightened state controls at the end of the Tsarist era, temporary bans by the Soviets and two World Wars prompted many Russians, including vodka producers, to leave their homeland for the West, especially America. As a result, vodka slowly became better known in the Western World. Vodka had its final breakthrough when it began to establish itself as a popular ingredient in the developing post-WWII cocktail culture in the USA, mainly because of its colorlessness and neutral taste. For decades vodka has also been a popular mixed drink in nightclubs in Europe, especially in combination with energy drinks such as Red Bull.
A taste of the future
And the future? In the last decade, interest in vodka has declined noticeably. Ironically the characteristic that made vodka popular in the first place (neutrality of taste) was increasingly interpreted as arbitrariness or as a lack of value. Spirits with a more individual character, especially gin, fit better into the changing values, which are marked by a turn towards things original, regional and artisan. And so a counter-trend can now be observed, both on the part of small distilleries and big names such as Absolut Vodka. With a return to the original character of vodka, the new “Eastern Styles” and Craft vodkas place special emphasis on the raw materials and their quality, as their taste should be preserved in the finished product. It is to be expected that in the medium term, Eastern Style vodkas will build up a similar fan base among spirit lovers in this country as rum or whiskey; bar operators are also increasingly turning to “exciting” varieties for the creation of special cocktails.
What is vodka made from?
Vodka is made from potatoes - that’s what you usually hear. It is not wrong either, because vodka can (also) be made from potatoes. Initially though, vodka was made from grain, namely rye. Even today, most vodka is still made from grain, such as wheat. Theoretically, vodka can be made from all carbohydrate-containing raw materials, such as fruits, sugar cane or sugar beet, molasses, etc. It depends on the law of the country of production, if a spirit distilled from such materials may be called vodka.
How is vodka made?
The raw materials
The production of vodka begins the same as the production of many traditional alcoholic beverages, with mashing. For this purpose, the raw materials (e.g. grain, potatoes or fruits) are crushed with water and mixed with water; thus the so-called mash is created. Depending on whether the carbohydrates are already present in the raw material in the form of sugar or still in the form of starch, the starch may have to be broken down into sugar in a further step (saccharification).
As soon as there is enough sugar, yeast is added. Yeast bacteria feed on the sugar and produce alcohol as a waste product (fermentation). Yeast can only remain active in the mash-up to a certain percentage of alcohol, after which it starts to die off. Normally, traditional methods achieve an alcohol content in the mash of less than 10%, modern yeasts bred for alcohol resistance can double this amount.
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As soon as the limits of yeast fermentation are reached, distillation begins. This process, known in the old days as the “burning” of alcohol, serves to separate and concentrate the alcohol contained in the fermented mash. Depending on the desired taste of the end product, aroma substances are also to be transferred into the distillate. Undesirable or even toxic substances should remain in the residue, the stillage. The stillage can be further utilized e.g. in energy production or agriculture (as fertilizer, animal feed etc.).
The distillation of vodka
For distillation, the mash is heated in containers and simplified, the following happens: since alcohol has a lower boiling point than other substances in the mash, it volatilizes first and is collected by condensation and directed into collection containers. Depending on the exact method of production, either one vessel is filled and distilled at a time, or continuous distillation takes place. It is important that toxic and inedible components are separated.
A special feature of international (especially “western”) vodka brands is that the distillate is heavily filtered before bottling, often by passing it through filters of activated carbon. The result is a very neutral drink, which - in extreme cases - consists only of pure alcohol and water. After the vodka has been brought to drinking strength, normally between 37.5% and 45%, it is bottled promptly. As a matter of principle, vodka is only stored in steel or glass tanks and not in wooden barrels, as is the case with whiskey or (brown) rum. Which is why vodka remains clear and does not take on any taste notes from barrel storage.
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How to drink vodka?
In Eastern Europe, especially Russia and Poland, vodka is a national drink. There are different traditions of how it is drunk, but most agree on a few of the most important points. Vodka is generally drunk pure and never mixed with juices or such. Ice is not usually added directly to the vodka, but rather the bottle and / or glasses are cooled according to taste.
In Russia vodka is usually served in the Stopka, a traditional glass that holds 100 ml, but is only half-filled. Yet, it is always emptied in one go. Ideally, you don’t pour your drink for yourself, but someone else does it for you. Especially women should never (have to) pour themselves. It is common to do toasts for each round consumed. In addition to the vodka there should be foodstuff; cucumbers, bread, bacon etc. are usual dishes served alongside.
In an international context, however, vodka is usually not enjoyed pure, but as a mixed drink. Apart from more elaborate types of cocktails, vodka is often consumed in long drinks (where there is only one additional ingredient besides the vodka). Well-known examples are Vodka Red Bull, Vodka Orange, Vodka Lemon or Vodka Soda. The aim is usually to create a drink in which the taste of the vodka is near indetectable. Mostly, the drink is cooled to reduce hint of alcohol even further.
Does vodka contain gluten?
Pure vodka usually no longer contains gluten.
However, if you suffer from celiac disease, make sure to check any drink before consumption if it is suitable for you, since there are reports that some people who are gluten intolerant still react adversely to vodka made e.g. from barley. It is not totally understood why this is the case, a theory says that despite distillation rests of gluten may remain in the vodka. One way to make sure is to only consume vodka made from gluten free resources, such as corn.
What is “flavored vodka”?
“Flavoured vodka” designates a type of vodka to which flavors are added after distillation. A distinction is to be made between such flavored vodkas on one side and Eastern style or Craft Vodka types on the other side. With the latter, the flavors come directly from the raw material and - since there is less filtration - remain in the distillate.
Adding flavorings to vodka or clear spirits is not a new invention. Originally, distilled alcohol was used as a medicine and not as an intoxicant and was usually administered mixed with herbs and other ingredients.
Various ingredients are and were used: Spices (e.g. pepper, cloves, cinnamon), roots (e.g. ginger), fruits (e.g. berries), herbs, grasses (e.g. buffalo grass), flowers, honey and sugar.
Major brands use almost exclusively artificial flavors.
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What are the best vodka mixers?
It depends. If you take modern, commercial varieties that have little taste of their own anyway, vodka can be mixed quite well with many things. Juices are common, but there are few limits to your imagination. Some even drink vodka mixed with milk.
In Russia, beer and vodka is a popular combination (a well-known saying says: “Beer without vodka is like throwing money in the wind / out the window). Similar to the “U-Boot” drink, the Russian “Yorsh” is prepared by mixing a - often quite considerable - portion of vodka with beer, sometimes by dropping the vodka glass into the beer glass.
More traditional types of vodka with more taste of their own are often not so good for mixing or are actually intended for pure enjoyment anyway. It should most likely be enjoyed in the form of cocktails or sours.
Cooking with vodka?
Vodka can not only be drunk but may also used to prepare food.
Penne alla Vodka
Probably the best known vodka recipe are “penne alla vodka”. The exact origin of the recipe is unknown. It became popular in the USA and Italy in the 1980s, supposedly as a meal in discotheques. A first recipe for pasta with vodka can already be found in an Italian cookbook in the 1970s. In 2016, on World Pasta Day, the Italian Association of Confectionery and Pasta Industries proposed the recipe as a symbol of friendship between Italy and Russia - obviously with success, as internet searches for penne alla vodka have increased enormously since then!
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So what is the reason to cook pasta with vodka? In fact, there are two reasons! First, the vodka prevents the acidity of the tomato from causing water and fats to separate in the cream sauce - the sauce stays creamy! Secondly, the alcohol acts as a flavour intensifier and helps to unlock the many aromas from the tomatoes.
There are various recipes, some of which differ considerably from each other; here is a classic recipe from the Marche region in central Italy:
- 0.5 kg penne
- 150 g bacon
- 150 ml whipping cream
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
- 2 tablespoons of vodka
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 chilli
- 0,5 kg tomatoe sauce
- 1 bay leaf
First, cut bacon into small cubes; finely chop parsley and chilli. Cut the garlic clove into flat cuts.
Heat the olive oil in a pan, fry bacon, chilli, parsley and garlic and then add vodka.
Season with salt, pepper and sugar, add the bay leaf and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. When the sauce has thickened, season to taste and remove the bay leaf. Finally, stir in the whipped cream.
At the same time, cook the pasta in salted water, strain and place in a bowl. Pour the sauce over the pasta, sprinkle with parmesan and fresh parsley and serve immediately.
Bloody Mary Prawns
Just as tasty as the cocktail, you can add a bit of extra class to spicy prawns by using vodka.
You’ll need the following:
- 3 large garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ tablespoon celery salt
- 1 tablespoon vodka
- 400g tin cherry tomatoes in juice
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ tablespoon caster sugar
- 7–8 dashes Tabasco sauce
- 10–12 large raw king prawns, shelled and deveined
- small handful flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped
Start out by slicing the garlic thinly and put it into a frying pan filled with the oil. Slowly turn up the heat until the garlic starts to soften, then add the celery salt, the vodka and let the liquid simmer. Go ahead and add cherry tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, sugar and Tabasco sauce. Bring it to boil and then turn down the heat and let it simmer for about a quarter of an hour, until the tomatoes have gone soft.
Raise the heat and add the prawns; cook them for about 5 minutes until they are down. Put into platters, add parsley and serve, e.g. with fresh crusty bread.
Is vodka vegetarian / vegan?
In general, vodka is vegetarian / vegan.
Very few Russians are black, this one is! Legend has it, however, that no Russian was involved or hurt in the creation of the drink, but a Belgian bartender created it for the American ambassador to Luxembourg (who was known for her rad parties). The name is explained by the two ingredients, (black) coffee and (russian) vodka.
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The preparation is very simple. According to the IBA (International Bartenders Association), two parts of vodka are poured into a glass with ice cubes and mixed with one part of coffee liqueur (e.g. Kahlúa) - voila!
A well-known variation is the “White Russian”, where whipped cream or milk is added. This drink became very popular for a short time by The Big Lebowski. Jeff Bridges aka “the Dude” sips his way through the film with this cocktail which he sometimes refers to as “Caucasian”. While we dare not assess whether this is PC or not, one thing is sure - a classic was born!
Still a cocktail or already a meal? The Bloody Mary’s got it goin’ on! It is a member of the “Corpse Reviver” group of cocktails, also called or “Pick-Me-Ups”. It is said that a hangover can be soothed by drinking more alcohol (see “hair of the dog” theorem); scientifically it is more credible that the vegetable ingredients of the drink compensate for salt loss and calm the stomach.
The IBA (International Bartenders Association) recipe requires the following ingredients to be mixed together: 45 ml vodka, 90 ml tomato juice, 15 ml lemon juice (fresh) and two dashes of Worcestershire sauce, seasoned with Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mix into a glass and garnish with a celery stick and/or lemon peel.
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As with many cocktails the origin is disputed. For one, US actor George Jessel is mentioned, who allegedly spontaneously mixed the remains of a vodka bottle with tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice at the end of a night of partying in 1920, as a remedy for a hangover. One of the ladies present, named Mary, is said to have spilled the red drink on her white dress, whenc the name. Another other story claims that the French bartender Fernand Petoit invented the cocktail either wholly on his own (according to his granddaughter’s reports) or at least greatly improved the originally very simple recipe of Jessel (which Petoit himself stated). Petoit attributed the name to an anecdote of a guest who told him about a bar in Chicago called the “Bucket of Blood”, where a waitress worked who was known as Bloody Mary.
Today the name is mainly associated with Mary Tudor (Mary I) of England. A fanatical Catholic, she tried (unsuccessfully) to bring England back to Catholicism and had hundreds of Protestants executed - hence her name.
Petoit later emigrated to America after the end of the prohibition, the cocktail was then for a while often made with gin instead of vodka, because gin was much more easily available than vodka in the USA until the 1950s. Today this variant is often called “Red Snapper” (Petoit had tried to change the name of the cocktail from “Bloody Mary” to “Red Snapper”, without success). After the Russian owners of the Smirnoff vodka brand were forced to sell their company, the new American management initiated an extensive marketing program and managed to make vodka extremely popular in the USA within a few years - and with it, among other drinks, the Bloody Mary.
If you leave out the vodka - of you which can hardly taste anyway - you’re left with a “Virgin Mary”.
Crusta Cocktails are called so after a special trait of theirs: before the actual cocktail is poured into the glass (usually a bulbous wine glass or cognac glass), the edge of the glass is moistened and then dipped in sugar. Thus, a “rim” of sugar forms around the glass, the crust or “crusta”. Crustas are usually similar to sours, i.e. they contain a sour component, usually lemon juice, and sugar or sugar syrup in addition to the basic spirit.
Often cocktail bitters are added to round off the flavour, so that the taste of crustas oscillates between sweet-sour (not like the Chinese) and dry-tart. Crustas are usually garnished with lemon or orange peels, which are cut into a long spiral and placed in the glass. Mixing is usually done in a mixer on ice, but the glass itself is not filled with ice before the cocktail is strained into it.
The best known is (or was) the Brandy Crusta, prepared with brandy or wine spirit; Crustas, however, seem to be a bit out of fashion. We think quite undeservedly, because although elaborate in preparation, they are equally rewarding in taste and appearance!
Crustas belong to the oldest cocktails in the world and were already consumed in the 19th century - at that time the term cocktail was much more narrowly defined, so that one of the first written mentions by the author Jerry Thomas in 1982 in “How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon-Vivant’s Companion” described the Crusta as an “improvement” of the “cocktail”. According to Thomas, the Crusta was invented in the 1840s by a bartender named Joseph Santina in New Orleans. Brandy was used as the standard spirit, though crustas with whiskey or gin are mentioned. Vodka took nearly another 100 years to become a common ingredient for crustas.
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We did some research for you and dug up a really fancy recipe for a vodka crusta from the 1980s, the golden age of vodka and of crazy cocktail ideas!
Take two flat saucers, one filled with orange syrup (or orange juice), the other with powdered sugar or granulated sugar. Now dip the cocktail glass first into the orange syrup/juice so that a finger’s breadth of the rim is wetted. Then press the glass into the sugar and turn it so that the “crusta” is formed, let it dry. Peel one lemon so that the whole peel is left as a spiral, put it into the cocktail glass. Put ice in a cocktail shaker, add 3 cl vodka and 1 cl brandy (or just 4 cl vodka if preferred), 1 cl red vermouth, 1 dash orange bitters and 1 dash angostura bitters. Shake vigorously and pour into the cocktail glass with the lemon peel.
A cocktail that might hav been forgotten a little bit. The standard variant is called “Godfather” and is prepared with whiskey. An Italian liqueur brand claims that the drink with was one of the favourite cocktails of actor Marlon Brandon, who played a leading role in the classic mafia movie “The Godfather” (original title “The Godfather”), whence the name is said to originate from. Is this true? Who knows! At least a shot of Italy is certainly part of the drink, in the form of Amaretto liqueur!
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There is no “official” recipe of the International Bartenders Association - IBA; usually the amaretto and the liquor are mixed in a ratio of 1:2 or 1:1. To prepare the drink, an Old Fashioned glass is filled with ice, the ingredients are added and the mixture is gently stirred. The cocktail is usually served without further decoration.
Besides the considerably less alcohol-heavy “Godchild” (with cream) and “French Connection” (with cognac), the “Godmother” variant of the cocktail is especially interesting, where the whiskey is replaced by vodka. Here too, we recommend a not too smooth vodka with a little more “character”. When whiskey is used, Scotch is generally added to the drink, but sometimes Bourbon is also added. Corn Vodka therefore fits especially well into the Godmother Cocktail!
Like many modern vodka cocktails, Caipiroska is a variant of another cocktail that is not originally prepared with vodka, in this case called “Caipirinha”. In Europe, Caipirinha is often prepared with rum (and thus should actually be called Caipirissima), but originally, the drink is to contain cachaça. Cachaçais a Brazilian spirit which - like rum - is made from sugar cane. In contrast to rum, which is made from sugar cane molasses, cachaça is made from the fresh juice of the plant. Cachaça, either fresh or aged, gives the “genuine” South American caipirinha a slightly different taste.
The traditional variant probably originates from Brazil, where in the 19th century sugar cane plantation owners served similar drinks on festive occasions. According to other legends, the drink originally comes from Portugal, and was then a hot drink in which water, high-proof alcohol, citrus fruits, garlic and honey were mixed for medicinal purposes.
The variant with vodka is called Caipiroska, Caipiroshka, Caipirovka, Caipivodka or Caipirowska. To create it, one simply replaces the cachaça or rum with the Russian spirit. Apart from that, preparation remains the same. A lime is cut into pieces or slices and placed in an old-fashioned glass with 4 spoons of white cane sugar (brown sugar is often used in Europe); the ingredients are then muddled with a muddler. Then the glass is filled with large ice cubes, the spirit is added and gently stirred. The drink is usually not decorated.
Long Island Ice(d) Tea
Long Island Ice(d) Tea, despite its name, does not contain any tea. It is also not a classic vodka cocktail, since vodka is only one of the many spirits that are part of the recipe. The IBA recipe includes equal parts of vodka, tequila, white rum, gin and cointreau. These “white” (i.e. clear) spirits are flavored with lemon juice and syrup in a large glass with ice cubes, the whole thing is topped with cola, stirred and usually garnished with a lemon wedge. The resulting drink bears a semblance to the color of iced tea, hence the name.
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There are countless variations and deviations from this recipe, whereby both the spirits (e.g. by also using whisky) and the non-alcoholic ingredients and filler (e.g. cranberry juice, Red Bull or champagne instead of cola) are exchanged. In the USA the cocktail is usually referred to as Long Island Iced Tea, while in Europe the spelling “Ice Tea” is often found.
The cocktail has been attested since the 1970s in the USA, where it most likely originated, its invention attributed to various bartenders. Stories that the drink was created during the time of prohibition to hide the forbidden alcohol consumption with the name and color of the drink are mostly likely myths and legends. The same is true regarding stories according to which either a bored housewife or students would have diverted small quantities from various bottles from her husband’s / heir father’s house bar, so that the consumption would not be noticeable. Cola was then allegedly added to make the wild mixture drinkable.
The fact that a large number of spirits are mixed somewhat indiscriminately and then infused with sugary juices is the reason why many professional bartenders reject the cocktail and it is not even found in many cocktail books. Nevertheless, its popularity has remained unbroken for decades.
A vodka cocktail that was not originally prepared with vodka. The first recipes from the 1920s still used gin (vodka was little known in the USA at that time) and grenadine. Later, recipes consisting of gin, fruit brandy, grenadine and lemon juice were known under this name; later still vodka, vermouth, galliano and curaçao were what made a Sea Breeze.
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In the 1950s, cranberry farmers corporations began to promote cranberry juice intensively, making the ingredient increasingly popular in cocktails. This is how the Sea Breeze, among others cranberry mixr cocktails, came into being. Then, for a while. cranberry juice was somewhat discredited in the USA, as warnings were issued that cranberry crops were tainted with toxic herbicides. However, since the 1970sit has been one of the most popular mixers with vodka.
According to the IBA recipe, a Sea Breeze is prepared with 4cl of vodka, which are mixed together with 12cl of cranberry juice and 3cl of grapefruit juice in a highball glass with ice cubes. Garnish with a cherry and a lemon zest.
Sex on the Beach
This cocktail belongs to the group of New England Highballs. Highballs are usually composed of a basic spirit and a carbonated filler, such as soda, lemonade, ginger ale, etc. Optionally, other ingredients are also included. The special feature of New England Highballs, named after the region in the northeast of the USA, is that their base spirit is topped with cranberry juice instead of carbonated fillers.
According to the IBA recipe, the drink contains 4 parts vodka, 2 parts peach brandy (or liqueur), 4 parts orange juice and 4 parts cranberry juice. The ingredients are simply mixed in a highball glass filled with ice and garnished with an orange slice. As with most cocktails there are many variations, for example with other fruit juices or even with tequila instead of vodka. If the drink is prepared alcohol-free it is sometimes called “Safer Sex on the Beach”.
The cocktail was invented by the author of the Bond novels, Ian Flemming (or rather his friend Ivar Bryce) in 1953 for his spy. It is a variation of the Martini Cocktail. The classic recipe from the novel consists of 3 parts gin, 1 part vodka and 1/2 part Kina Lillet. It is prepared in the classic way - shaken, not stirred; and garnished with a lemon zest. According to the novel, it is also not to be served in a classic Martini glass, but rather in a champagne glass.
In order to come close to the original taste, however, one has to make some adjustments nowadays. The recipe of Kina Lillet was changed in the 1980s so that it tastes much less bitter. This can be somewhat aided by adding cocktail bitters and/or chinin powder. In the early 1950s, the vodka varieties used were also somewhat stronger, with an alcohol content of around 50%, as was Gordon’s Gin, which was mentioned in the novel, and which had 47% alcohol content at the time. According to Bond, grain vodka is to be preferred.
The IBA’s official recipe uses 4.5 cl of gin, 1.5 cl of vodka and 0.75 cl of Lillet Blanc, strained into a martini glass. However, often the drink is stirred rather than shaken to keep it clear.
In the novel, the cocktail is named after the main female character - but according to Ivar Bryce, the name stems from a visit by Flemming to acquaintances of his on Jamaica at the time of “Vespers” (i.e. the evening) when rum cocktails were served.
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Vodka from Corn
Corn is not a classic grain for the production of vodka, but is becoming increasingly popular with connoisseurs, as it yields particularly smooth and gentle taste experiences. Here is a list (which we will expand over time) of interesting vodka varieties made from corn that you should try!
Crystal Head Vodka
The vodka has something of a - pardon us - clusterfuck. The “inventor” is Dan Aykroyd, the actor most people will know from Blues Brothers or Ghost Busters. It is made from Canadian corn and filled into eye-catching skull-shaped bottles envisioned by the designer John Alexander and made in Italy. The duo took their inspiration from the famous crystal skulls, which are said to have been left by ancient Mesoamerican cultures (but are nowadays generally agreed to be modern time fakes). The vodka is also filtered through Herkimer “diamonds” (ultimately fancy quartz crystals). The company website points out that some “New Age belief systems” profess that quartz crystals radiate positive energy and are known to have properties that promote healing and well-being. The page also says that although it admittedly cannot be explained scientifically, consumers prefer quartz-filtered vodka.
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So if you ask yourself what happens if you combine every marketing rouse at once: “Ghostbuster” Vodka made from Canadian corn, filtered through esoteric pseudo-diamonds, bottled in glass skulls from Italy, inspired by Indiana Jones-like fakes… why not, actually? Especially since the vodka won gold several times at the renowned San Francisco World Spirits Competition, just for its taste without all the fuzz.
Originally a Russian company, the distillery “Smirnoff” (old spelling), founded in Moscow at the end of the 19th century, was the first to use charcoal to filter the distillate.Smirnoff sounds quite peculiar to our ears, but according to some sources it is the most common surname in Russia (comparable to “Smith” or “Jones” in English-speaking countries) and means “quiet”.
Pyotr Arsenyevich Smirnov was the first vodka producer in Russia to verifiably use newspaper advertisements to promote his brand and also made generous donations to the Russian Orthodox Church to ensure that they did not scourge vodka drinking too much in their sermons. Allegedly the tsar also liked to drink his vodka and within a few years Smirnov dominated the market in Moscow.
Later, however, the distillery was confiscated by the state and the Smirnov family was forced to emigrate after the communist revolution. Ultimately, the company, now called Smirnoff, had to be sold to the USA. The new owner invented the nowadays famous Moscow Mule cocktail and traveled personally throughout the United States to promote it. For this purpose he took a photo of the bartender with the Smirnoff bottle and the Moscow Mule mug in every bar where he presented the drink.
This constantly growing photo album was then used in other bars to prove that the whole country was already in on the Moscow Mule craze. Russian distillation traditions, paired with American brute force entrepreneurship!
Interesting detail: since vodka was still quite unknown in the USA at that time - whisky dominated the spirits market - vodka was unceremoniously rebranded as “white whiskey”, “without taste and smell”.
L’Chaim Kosher Vodka
In contrast to Islam, in Judaism the consumption of alcohol is not only allowed (in principle), but even obligatory in various religious acts. Of course, Moses did not come down from Mount Sinai with a bottle of vodka (as far as we know); the focus is rather on wine. But whoever wants to try kosher vodka, regardless of spiritual convictions, can try L’Chaim from Israel.
The neat advantage: the name is the Hebrew word for “cheers” and literally means “live”. The knowledge of vodka production was brought into the country by emigrants from Russia. It is made from corn and water from the Golan Heights.
Tito’s Handmade Vodka
“Tito from Texas” is not a Latino as onemight think, he also has (probably) nothing to do with the former dictator of Yugoslavia. His first name Bert was changed by his Spanish-speaking nanny to Tito (amusingly, his last name is “Beveridge” close enough to “beverage”).
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Originally a geologist and a true Texan in the oil business, he started experimenting with making spirits as gifts for friends. Within two decades, Tito’s vodka has become well established in the USA - almost every tenth bottle of vodka opened there comes from Tito’s Distillery in Austin, Texas (incidentally, the first distillery in Texas since the prohibition).
According to Tito himself, the raw material corn provides a particularly smooth and pure taste. A double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the fact that American Airlines has only served Tito’s Handmade Vodka since 2013 speak for themselves!
A classic from the Soviet Union and one of the most popular vodkas in the world! (A little historic sidenote: after the expulsion of the Smirnov family, the eponym of the famous Smirnoff vodka brand, from Russia, their distillery was taken over by the state, where today Stolichnaya is partly produced). Regarding the brand’s foundation year there are contradictory statements. However, it is ascertained that “Stoli” originates from the Moscow distillery “Crystal”, which was founded at the beginning of the 20th century as a state authorized vodka production facility. After the communists came to power and the end of the Second World War, Stoli was presented to the world at the International Trade Fair in Bern at the beginning of the 1950s, where the vodka won awards. Yet as early as the 1930s and 1940s, there are indications that the brand was registered and production was started. In the 1970s, Pepsi made a deal with the Soviet Union that gave Pepsi marketing rights for Stoli vodka in the West, while in return the soft drink was the first American consumer product to be launched in Russia. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the brand was de facto privatised, which was later contested by the Russian government. Today, both a private company and a state-owned Russian company produce a vodka called Stolichnaya , and the two have been in legal dispute for decades.
Yet, generally Stoli is made of wheat and rye - so why the mention here? Quite simply, Stoli has launched an officially gluten-free vodka in 2016, called “Stolichnaya gluten free”. Now you might wonder whether this is just a publicity gag; vodka is gluten-free in principle, since distillation leaves merely the alcohol. However, since the public is becoming more and more aware the issues regarding gluten and many coeliac patients want to be on the safe side, Stoli now also offers a corn vodka.
Just corn? “Stolichnaya gluten free” has another special feature - it is a vodka that is not just made from one raw material. In addition to 88 percent corn vodka, the remaining 12 percent is made from buckwheat vodka (both gluten-free cereals). This special Stoli is therefore a “blended vodka” or a vodka cuvé, if you liwillke! For this reason alone it is worth tasting; some describe the taste as slightly lighter and sweeter than Stolichnaya’s standard variety.
If you would like to try an Austrian vodka or appreciate less neutral spirits such as whisky, rum or fine spirits, Entbrannt Wodka just might be the thing for you. The young (2019) brand from Styria Province in Austria focuses on the production of small quantities, uses original Eastern European distilling methods and combines them with the Austrian brandy tradition. Entbrannt is a genuine “Eastern Style” or “Craft Vodka”, in which a large part of the aromas and flavours from the corn are retained in the finished product. The result is an extremely interesting vodka, which is suitable both for pure consumption and as a unique cocktail ingredient. Depending on the serving temperature, tastes of cereal and spices or sweet notes predominate. Thus it is no surprise that Entbrannt was awarded a gold medal at the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) in London, one of the most prestigious competitions for spirits worldwide!