A Vodka Primer

A Vodka Primer

Prior to the 14th century, vodka was used mainly in perfumes and cosmetics.

By Bob Lipinski

“I never have more than one drink before dinner,” said Bond. “But I do like that one to be very large and very strong and very cold and very well-made.” — James Bond, “Casino Royale” (when referring to a martini)

Vodka is an alcoholic beverage distilled at or above 190 proof and bottled at not less than 80 proof (except in the case of flavored vodkas). According to the U.S. standards of identity, U.S.-made vodka must be “without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.” However, no federal regulations require vodka to be entirely without aroma or taste; therefore, some vodkas display distinctive characteristics in aroma and taste.

Vodka seems to have first appeared in either Russia or Poland around the twelfth century, when it was known as zhizenennia voda (water of life) in the Russian monastery-fort of Viatka. The word vodka comes from the Russian word for water, voda, or the Polish word wódka — in Polish the w has a v sound. The suffix “ka” was added to the root word centuries later. By the fourteenth century, vodka began to be used as a beverage; formerly, it was mainly used in perfumes and cosmetics. The early vodkas were strongly flavored and therefore it became a common practice to add herbs, spices, and fruits to mask the sometimes harsh, raw taste. Vodka is generally made from grains — barley, corn, rice, rye, wheat — although sugar beets, grapes, maple syrup, molasses, plums, potatoes, and sugarcane can be used. Actually, vodka can be made from virtually any ingredient that contains starch or sugar.

I like vodka served directly from the freezer Arctic-cold, served in Y-shaped glasses or ryumochki (small shot glasses) and downed in one gulp. A vodka martini, with plenty of ice, some dry vermouth and olives gets me going. By the way, vodka won’t freeze because of the high alcohol level and it will be instantly at the right temperature for mixing your favorite cocktail without melting the ice cubes.

Everyone has their favorite vodka brands and I’m no exception. I especially enjoy Boru (Ireland), Luksusowa (Poland), Monopolowa (Austria), Moskovskaya (Russia), Stolichnaya Elite (Russia), Zubrówka (Slavic Countries) and Zyr (Russia). I recently tasted three new vodkas, which I will certainly add to my list: Mayfair Vodka, made in London, England, is a refreshing aroma, with citrus and anise hints; incredibly smooth, well-balanced finish. The second is Leaf Vodka, which is made from two unique waters. Both are refined and quite smooth with “no burn.” Leaf Alaskan Glacial Water (80 proof): Hints of white pepper; floral, roses; nice smooth aftertaste. Leaf Rocky Mountain Mineral Water (80 proof): Aroma of vanilla, fruity and herbal; great texture and clean finish. The third is Khortytsa Platinum (Ukraine): Lemon- clean aroma with hints of citrus and orange peel; ultra-smooth tasting.

Drop me a line and let me know your favorite.

Bob Lipinski, a local author, has written ten books, including “101: Everything You Need To Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on Wine, Spirits, and Food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com OR [email protected].