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C F Hayman, Hayman Limited, Witham, Essex, UK

This article is reproduced from Encyclopaedia of Food Science,
FoodTechnology and Nutrition, Copyright 1993, Academic Press.
0001 The exact origin of vodka is unknown, although both
Russia and Poland claim to be the first producers.
Vodka was distilled in Russia in the early twelfth
century and, as with other spirit drinks, began its life
more for medical purposes rather than for enjoyment.
0002 The word vodka or wodka means little water. It is
derived from the Russian word voda. Today the Rus-
sians refer to it as vodoshka. Although the origins of
vodka may date back some eight centuries, it is gen-
erally accepted that vodka as we know it today first
appeared during the sixteenth century.
Characteristics of Production
0003 Vodka is a fairly tasteless and neutral spirit product
which is mainly derived from the fermentation and
distillation of grain. However, some producers will
use other raw materials such as potatoes, sugarbeet,
grapes, or cassava instead of grain, depending on the
local availability and cost. Once the grain or similar
has been converted into neutral alcohol by fermenta-
tion and distillation, the vodka producer will start the
process. Different producers have developed their
own methods of production.
0004 Some distillers will further distil or rectify the
spirit, retaining only the middle part of the distillation
for additional processing. The foreshot and feints are
disregarded. The spirit will be passed through char-
coal or carbon filters which remove the remaining
flavors and odors to give vodka its clean and smooth
0005 The various producers have developed their own,
often secret, ways of filtering but are very concerned
about the contact time of the spirit with the charcoal.
Some distillers have a single filter (Figure 1) while
others require the spirit to pass through a series of
filters. The choice of charcoal varies as it affects the
final product. One producer uses charcoal specially
made from Sussex oak trees; another uses carbon de-
rived from peat found in the Dutch polders. After
filtration, some distilleries will regenerate the charcoal
using steam whilst others discard the spent charcoal.
0006 The character of the water added to the finished
vodka to reduce it to the required bottling strength is
very important. The increased technology of water
demineralization plants allows a greater consistency
in quality than ever before. Water quality is of a vital
significance in the final taste of the product.
0007 In the European Community, the minimum level of
alcohol acceptable for vodka is 37.5%(v/v), but often
higher-strength vodkas are available, particularly
coming from eastern Europe, e.g., 4555%.
0008 Many vodkas are flavored and this again origin-
ated from both Poland and Russia. One Polish vodka
is flavoured by steeping buffalo grass (Hierochloe
odorata) in the product to give it an additional aro-
matic flavor, and it also takes on some of the green
color from the grass. An old Russian vodka is pre-
pared with an infusion of leaves from apple and pear
trees, to which is added brandy and port-type wine.
This vodka is mellow in taste and pleasing to drink.
Some high-strength vodkas are aged in wood, often
giving them a brown color derived from the cask. In
more recent times, Pepper vodka has been produced,
Fine gravel (25 mm)
Coarse gravel (610 mm)
Vodka outlet to tank
Steam inlet
(7 psi)
Alcohol supply
1.1 m
100 mm
1 m
Wire gauze
200 mm
fig0001 Figure 1 A typical vodka filter. Reproduced from Vodka, En-
cyclopaedia of Food Science, Food Technology and Nutrition, Macrae
R, Robinson RK and Sadler MJ (eds), 1993, Academic Press.
6068 VODKA