The Five Biggest Vodka Myths

While vodka is usually associated with Russia and other Eastern European countries, it’s actually America’s favorite spirit. (We drink more vodka than gin, rum, tequila and cognac combined.) But despite its popularity, it’s still pretty misunderstood. To clear up some common misconceptions, we asked Tony Abou-Ganim, an all-star bartender and author of  the recently published Vodka Distilled, for help. Here are the five most common myths he hears, along with the truth. Cheers!

All Vodka is the Same.

Not even close. The spirit reflects where it comes from and what it was distilled from. “Traditional-style vodkas, primarily from Eastern Europe, are much more assertive, robust and celebrate their raw ingredients,” says Abou-Ganim, while “the West produces a much softer, more approachable vodka.”

More Distillations = Better Vodka.

We hear this from a lot from both brands and consumers. But according to Abou-Ganim, this isn’t true. For one, each company defines exactly what constitutes a single distillation, and every distillery is set up differently. And if a vodka is over-distilled, there’s a risk of stripping out all the “flavor, aroma and character of the base ingredients,” he says. What you’re left with is essentially pure alcohol.

Vodka is Made from Potatoes.

While vodka can be distilled from potatoes—as with the Swedish Karlsson’s Gold Vodka—it can also be produced from pretty much anything. (The French Ciroc is grape-based, and there’s even a brand made from milk.) But most vodka in this country is made from corn, wheat or other grains.

You Don’t Need to Buy Good Vodka for Cocktails.

“I can’t promise you will always be able to taste the difference in the final drink,” Abou-Ganim says. “But if you drink enough of it, you will certainly feel [the difference] the next day. Life is too short to drink cheap, poorly distilled vodka!”

Price = Quality.

How much should you spend on vodka? It’s a pretty tough question, since the price tag isn’t an accurate indicator of quality. So, “do your homework: Taste as many vodkas in as many different price ranges as possible,” Abou-Ganim recommends. “I’ve tasted wonderful bottles of $12 vodka and wonderful bottles of $50 vodka.”

Learn more about vodka and get lots more cocktail recipes in our vodka guide.

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Comments

  1. Fairly useless article unless you’ve never had vodka before or have never showed a previous interest in what you drink…

  2. Over distilled? All vodka is distilled to 190 proof to remove flavinoids, that is the point, to strip out all the flavors and aromas. And there is no exact definition because each distilling column can have multiple plates. Each plate is considered a “distillation” so the product they sell could easily be called distilled “100 times.” It’s all BS.

    The unique “flavor ” of vodka comes when they add the water to bring it back down to 80 proof. And also the additives. In the US citric acid can be added up to 1000 ppm. The EU laws are even more relaxed and they allow adding limited amounts of citric acid, sugar and glycerol.

    • While all vodka has to be distilled to at least 190-proof, some brands remove more flavor and aroma from the alcohol via extra distillations and filtration. Try doing a blind tasting of vodkas and you’ll see that they taste different.

      • Right. Because of the water and citric acid and sugar added when it’s brought down to 80. That is where the flavor comes from, not the spirit itself, which is why the source material hardly matters and why it’s all considered vodka, regardless of what was used (potatoes, rice, rye, grapes). Anything can be made intro vodka because it is distilled to near full proof.

        Try a blind tasting of several brands at their 190 proof stage. Indistinguishable. Flavor comes afterward.

        Again the whole POINT of vodka is to be as tasteless and odorless as possible. See the link below from TTB

        “…so treated as to be without distinctive character, aroma, or taste. Although no explicit definition of the term “distinctive” could be found in the hearing record, the testimony indicates that vodka is to be as tasteless and odorless as possible.”

        • CU did a repot about 50 years ago – a team of tasting experts, blinded tested a series of Vodkas, low to high price. What they didn’t know was that CU had clouded a “ringer”, pure lab alcohol.
          The preferences were all over the map – EXCEPT the pure lab alcohol was the best by far!
          Vodka is pure alcohol!

    • e henry schoenberger says

      Timothy, you are right. As the former CEO and licensed alcohol producer by the BATF of a Florida venture capital distillation company, I can assure everyone that in order to be classified as Vodka, the spirit must by approximately 100% pure. That requires a distillation process to remove all impurities including methanol, so all vodka must be “triple” distilled, which means the distillation process involves 3 columns.

      There are all kinds of advertising myths about quality, which should be regarded as an excuse for higher profit margins. the lower price brands depend on selling more than the upper priced stuff. I have personally seen Sky coming out of the same tank of finished product being bottled in blue bottles, and clear bottles in the same round line as Paramount in Cleveland. And there is no way to get sick by switching from one to another. if you like the straight taste of the one with more additives, drink, but if you are mixing stick to the bottom shelf.

  3. From the TTB if you have any doubts.

    http://www.ttb.gov/rulings/97-1.htm

  4. Mark Stone says

    Would someone please comment on the rumor that COSTCO vodka is made by Grey Goose. Thank you.

    • This rumor is quite widespread online (and Costco doesn’t try very hard to dispel it), but the two vodkas from what we found are not the same. That said, if you like Kirkland Signature Vodka, you should drink it—it doesn’t matter who makes it!

  5. the article was a bit too brief – even for inexperienced vodka drinkers. showing skyy, absolute and effen … at least no gg (godawful (overpriced) goose) was a bit of a travesty. too bad there was no explanation of those made with rye – pravda, molassas – down under, poatao – glacier, monopolova, chopin and more, grapes – ciroc (mention) and one other i cannot remember.

    one suggestion i would make as preference is individual – we did this with vodka, gin, wines and bourbon – all with great success. have a fun group of friends over for hors d’ouvres and a blind taste test. one person covers the bottles and assigns a number. each person brings a bottle – you may set a price point or not – has a shot, mini martini or a splash of tonic – whatever is decided but everyone has the same drink for all liquors. it is fun to discuss the different tastes and textures and some people were actually amazed their “favorite” did not make the top five!

    cheers!

    ps – i worked in the liquor industry, as well as being a wine chemist, for many years and performed a lot of personal “research” on many varieties of distilled spirits, wines and ports.

  6. I wish you would list which ones are gluten free. Today it’s so hard to tell what is safe to drink for those who have celiac disease

    • I agree on that one, I wish there was some brands listed that we could go off that were the better then others based on your research and opinion

    • In theory (we are not medical or nutrition professionals, so please consult your doctor about this), gluten should not make it through the distillation process, even for vodkas made from wheat or rye, which means people with celiac should be able to drink any brand of unflavored vodka without problems. (Flavored vodkas may be a different story; labels do not have to list the ingredients used for flavoring.) However, if you’re still worried about gluten, we suggest you try a vodka made from a gluten-free ingredient like potatoes (Chopin, Luksusowa, Karlsson’s Gold), corn (Tito’s, Smirnoff, Rain) or grapes (Ciroc).

    • No gluten in spirits. Celiacs are fine getting hammered on 80 proof stuff :)

  7. Schatzi49 says

    I was expecting to find out something I didn’t already know, but alas it was not to be.

  8. well being someone whom is young and just getting being educated about wine liquor etc etc, this was pretty useful to me, what boggles me a little is why people have to be so negative, if you think your doing such a better job, why don’t you become a article writer for this company, no one is better than anyone on here, however, respect the position the person writing this is in, they are trying to inform, and I do agree from tasting various vodkas, there some that have a nasty taste and odor, I found that out very young LOL because someone brought a cheap brand of vodka and another brought the GOOD STUFF, so I definitely tasted the difference, by the way , I would like to say think you, I was curious about this , it answered a lot of my questions, but I look on the positive side of things more or less, some of ya all should try it.. CHEERS.. have a awesome day and thank you liquor.com

  9. Com’on liqour.com, this is pretty shallow, Tony can do much better than that!

  10. I’ve been drinking vodka for a long time. Beefeaters was the big deal back then. I find good vodka all the time in some odd stores. Pinacle , yrs before it was ever advertised. One I would like to suggest is called SIX. Found it at CVS’s a few yrs ago. Look around try whats on sale.

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