Made from potatoes, beets, barley, wheat, corn or rye, vodka is an unaged liquor that's clear, colorless and almost flavorless. To achieve this pure result, it's distilled at high proof levels and filtered through a special activated charcoal. This process eliminates impurities or elements that might convey a distinctive aroma or taste.
Able to take on the flavor of any fruit, juice or tonic mixed with it, vodka is a popular ingredient in martinis, Long Island iced teas and the Blood Mary. Higher quality vodkas are also favored for serving straight up.
Vodka usually has an alcohol content that ranges from 35% to 70% by volume depending on brand. The classic Russian vodka is 40%, or 80 proof.
Aside from alcohol content, vodka can also be classified into two groups: clear (unflavored) vodkas and flavored vodkas. Flavored vodkas are long common in Russia, Poland and Nordic countries where they've been traditionally seasoned with honey and various fruits, herbs and spices.
More recently, producers have introduced vodkas infused with essences of lemon, peach, melon, berry, vanilla and chocolate (to name a few). Appearing in Appletinis, Lemon Drops and Cosmopolitans, these "designer" flavors are turning vodka into the U.S.'s most fashionable liquor.
While vodka can be made from a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and grains, those distilled with a single ingredient such as wheat, rye or potato are considered best. Wheat vodkas can be characterized as soft and smooth, while rye vodkas are more robust and spicy. Potato vodkas tend to have a creamier feel on the tongue.
Keep in mind the most expensive vodkas aren't necessarily the "best" for you. Some brands tout "purity," others brag about "character," and sometimes you end up paying a little more for the pretty bottle. While connoisseurs are able to detect notable flavor differences among labels (they're often fiercely loyal to one), the occasional vodka drinker probably can't. So don't select vodka solely by price, especially if it's going to be used as a mixer.
Vodka can be stored at room temperature, but for serving straight, it's best kept icy cold in the freezer.
Try one of our favorite vodka recipes:
Romano's Macaroni Grill Vodka