An old Russian saying describes vodka as ‘sunshine in my stomach’, a perfect description of the spirit’s warming effect that made it so popular in the icy cold winters of Eastern Europe.
Aqua Vitae, or ‘the water of life’ is the earliest known form of vodka. It originated in Poland where it was first used medicinally, and then migrated to Russia in the 14th century. 400 years later, Russians began to filter vodka through hardwood charcoal to strip any residual flavours, creating the neutral profile we know today.
Vodka is made from two ingredients; water and ethanol. In fact, the name vodka comes from the Slavic word voda, meaning water. Vodka is made from fermenting a grain mash of wheat or rye, or in some cases potatoes or other agricultural produce with fermentable sugars. The ferment is then distilled multiple times and charcoal filtered for purity. However, traditionally vodka was not filtered in order to preserve its natural flavours and this method is still practiced today by many traditional-vodka producing countries and boutique distilleries, such as Hartshorn Distillery.
Vodka is renowned for being odourless, colourless and flavourless, but it does have a very subtle flavour that varies between brands, ranging from citrus to bread, or even butter. Vodka’s largely neutral profile also makes it ideal for infusing with the flavours of botanicals and other ingredients. It’s very easy to try your own infusions at home by simply adding ingredients such as berries, chillies, red skin lollies and even bacon to a bottle and leaving the flavours to dissolve into the alcohol. Many vodka brands have their own ranges of flavoured vodkas.
Vodka is best served ice cold, and because of its high alcohol content it can be kept in the freezer without it freezing. While vodka has a long shelf life, it’s flavour will change and be lost over time so it’s best to enjoy within 1-2 years.
Traditionally vodka is drunk neat, but because of its neutral profile it has become a very popular spirit for mixers and cocktails. Vodka is an essential ingredient in many classic cocktails including the Martini, Bloody Mary, Moscow Mule, White Russia and Screwdriver, just to name a few.
2 parts good quality vodka
1 part Noilly Prat Original French Dry Vermouth
2/3 part olive brine
2 olive to garnish
To prepare, pit four olives and muddle them with olive brine. Add the vodka, vermouth, top with ice cubes and stir. Drain the drink into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with olives.