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Virginia ABC > Products > Discovery > Product Knowledge > Vodka Guide

Buying Guide for Vodka


Usually distilled from grain or potatoes, vodka is a neutral spirit "without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color" (27 CFR 5.22.a) . Vodka originated in the Slavic countries, where it was traditionally consumed chilled and straight. Its popularity in the United States is due  to its versatility in cocktails—a characteristic that has enabled the rise of flavored vodkas. Since the nineteenth century, standard vodka has been manufactured at 80 proof.

Know the Label

These terms commonly appear on vodka labels. For more information, please ask the staff of your Virginia ABC store.

Distilled from grain
Distilled from potatoes
Quality vodkas are made both from grains and from potatoes. Vodka was first distilled from grains such as wheat or rye. The potato has also long been used in vodka production, dating to the root vegetable's introduction to Europe from the New World. Although grain and potatoes are the most common sources, vodka can in fact be made from almost any food high in starch or sugar, such as corn, grapes or honey.
Some impurities remain after distillation. These substances are removed through various filtration methods, some patented and secret, which vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. These include filtering through corn husks and filtering through charcoal.
Vodka manufacturers produce a wide range of vodkas mixed with flavorings, which may be added during or following distillation. These range from fruit and nut flavorings to cola, candy cane, birthday cake, and more exotic tastes.
Gluten free
Vodka is often distilled from grains, which contain gluten. Gluten-free vodka guarantees removal of gluten traces.
No sugar or gelatin
Higher-quality vodka, whether pure or flavored, does not generally contain added sugar. Gelatin in some form may be used in the filtration process; since gelatin is an animal protein, the term "gelatin free" indicates that the vodka is vegetarian friendly.
Premium vodkas have been distilled and filtered to the most exacting standards, eliminating most impurities. Premium vodkas are generally consumed chilled and straight and are described as having a smooth, mellow taste, without harsh or medicinal overtones.
Small batch(es)
Vodka is made through successive distillations that increase the purity of the alcohol. Smaller batches allow the distiller to have more control over the distillation process and tend to result in a higher quality of spirits. However, there are no specific rules governing the accurate use of this term.
Triple distilled
Successive distillations increase the purity of the alcohol, leaving solids, acids, esters and other congeners behind. Three distillations are common for many brands, although some vodkas may be distilled fewer times, in order to capture a certain taste or mouthfeel, or many more times, in order to achieve a more tasteless and odorless spirit.
Following distillation and filtration, water is blended with the alcohol to reduce the proof of vodka to the desired level. The choice of water can have an effect on taste, with some brands opting for artesian water and others choosing distilled and filtered water.

Cocktail Conversation

Vodka dates back at least to the fourteenth century in Russia, and the cocktail that sparked the 1950s vodka craze in the United States was the Moscow Mule. Since vodka has a relatively recent history in the United States, there are few "classic" cocktails that contain vodka—but its versatility makes it easy to adapt in many classic recipes. 
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