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How vodka is made

General about vodka

Vodka originated in north-eastern Europe. It is disputed whether Russia or Poland is its homeland, but both countries made vodka from mainly grain (but also potatoes) and historically there hasn't been too much difference between them.
In Poland and Norway, potatoes are now one of the most popular raw materials to use as a base for vodka. However, this is not a very wise choice according to many producers, as potatoes are difficult to work with in production and also produce a meagre profit. Potato-based vodka is difficult to store and only produces 10 litres of spirit from just over 100 kilos of potatoes. This is in contrast to the fact that 100 kilos of grain yields almost 30 litres of vodka, and grain can be stored for much longer.
In Sweden we use cereals such as rye and wheat to make vodka. Potato-based vodka also exists, but on a much smaller scale.

The distillation and filtration process

Column distillation is now the most common distillation method, used in particular by the larger industries. The single pot still is also used, but only a handful of distilleries use this method. However, vodka distilled using the single pot still has acquired a more exclusive status. This variant is both rounder and richer in flavour.
Sometimes the vodka is filtered in a special machine both during and after the distillation process. In the past, cloth, sand and bread were all used in the filtering process, which led to poor results. The quality improved considerably when charcoal was used, a method that is still used today. This is so that the charcoal will soak up the trace elements that either alter or add undesirable flavours. In the major vodka-producing countries, this is rarely done, as they prefer to use minimal filtration in the distillation process in order to preserve the unique characteristics and flavours of the product.
The person responsible for the distillation controls the filtration, which includes the removal of various components containing flavour compounds such as ethyl acetate and ethyl lactate as well as fine oils that affect the desired clean taste of the vodka. This can be achieved by distilling the beverage several times. Depending on the method and production technique, the end result can contain as much as 95% ethanol. Because of this, the vodka is usually diluted considerably before being dispensed into bottles.

Flavouring

Most vodkas are not flavoured, but in countries where vodka is widely drunk, there are self-composed recipes to improve the taste of vodka or for purely medicinal purposes.
It is important to note that the flavouring process takes place after both fermentation and distillation. It is in the fermentation process that the spirit pulp is converted into spirits that have only the taste of ethanol. By leaching herbs or fruit, for example, into a small amount of spirit and then adding it to the vodka itself, the drink takes on a completely different flavour.
Vodka can be flavoured with ginger, vanilla, cinnamon or different types of fruit. In Russia, it is quite common to flavour vodka with honey and peppers, while in Poland and Belarus, the local musk grass is added to produce Żubrówka - a type of vodka that is quite sweet in taste and light yellow in colour. In Lithuania and Poland it is common to flavour with honey. Flavouring vodka has also become quite common in the Nordic countries. Here, vodka can be mixed with, for example, herbs, fruit and spices. In Sweden we have about forty varieties of herbal vodka, i.e. spiced spirits.
It has become a trend to experiment with more unusual flavours - there is now, for example, vodka that tastes of bacon and hot chilli.
Although the vodka contains no more than 30 milligrams of flavourings per litre (cognac contains over 2 000 milligrams), it can have a distinct taste.
It's not common to store vodka, but when it is, it's usually in Poland and Russia. It is then aged in oak casks, but only to round off the spirit so that it has a softer character.

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