It began as a traditional drink in Eastern Europe with purported medicinal qualities, but Vodka has moved on to earn worldwide recognition. The relatively high alcohol content, coupled with a lightness on the palate and it being so easy to mix, has ensured mass appeal. Vodka is now produced in slightly different ways by countries across the globe, from Holland to the USA and of course, Russia.
Vodka translates into Russian and Polish as Little Water, and both nations have claimed to be the original source of the drink. In contemporary history, Vodka first became a hit in the USA during the Great Depression of the 1930s, as it was cheap and readily available. Americans still loved it when the economic situation improved, and their enthusiasm soon swept to other parts of the world.
The Different Types of Vodka
There may be hundreds of different brands of vodka, but in essence, they are all quite similar. When it comes to the different types of vodka, there is less diversity.
What is the Country of Origin? – Most countries in the western world have their own style of vodka, although Russia, the Balkans and Poland are most renowned. For centuries Europeans have been using time honoured methods to make their version of the spirit unique, with specific filtering processes and ingredients to get the finished product just right. However, the way a vodka tastes can also come down to simple factors, like the difference in water between regions.
What is the Base? – In most conversations about vodka, someone will mention it is made from potatoes. This is not untrue, but it’s really only half the picture. Ever since vodka was first distilled, the manufacturers have selected their base ingredients from a range of sources. In fact, vodka has been made and continues to be made with elements as diverse as wheat, rice, barley, corn and fruit. In the UK, the Chase Distillery Original Vodka has a potato base, whilst the Adnams Longshore Finest Cut Vodka has a grain base. The quality of the ingredients chosen to form a mash will have a significant effect on the drink, including how smooth it tastes and what the alcohol content is.
What are Flavoured Vodkas? – Vodka can be infused with flavour and aroma to make it taste better in cocktails, on the rocks, or with a single mixer. As vodka is a neutral spirit, it makes a great flavour carrier, so you can really taste the added ingredients. The best versions are bold and intense without tasting artificial, fruits like peach and strawberry work well, but you can also find chocolate, coffee and even marshmallow vodkas.
What About Non-Flavoured Vodkas? – For some drinkers, the real character of a spirit comes out most fully when it is non-flavoured. These versions of vodka don’t exhibit any strong aromas, but sometimes the base can be recognised, especially if it’s a sweet ingredient like fruit or honey. In a cocktail, you won’t be able to pick out the individual flavour of this type of vodka, but you’ll certainly sense its warmth.
What About the Alcohol Content? – One of the major differences between the various types of vodka is their alcohol by volume content. This varies between producers and countries, but in the case of most popular brands, it sits at around 37.5%, as with Smirnoff, or 40%, as with Absolut. Aside from the extra heat you can’t really taste a higher alcohol content, but it will have a greater effect on you! Some types of vodka have an alcohol content as high as 70% or 80%, but Balkan Vodka 176 has an eye-watering ABV of 88%. Consequently, the bottle has thirteen different health warnings, including one written in Braille. Most people prefer a more modest ABV because they can have more to drink without feeling drunk.
What About the Production Technique? – The equipment and technology used to make batches of vodka vary between manufacturers, which is another reason brand's taste different and have different ABV contents. Filtration is an important aspect of the vodka creation process, as it influences how the drink feels on the palate. Filtration removes impurities and it’s usually done using charcoal. Extra-filtration will produce a thinner vodka, whilst thicker varieties are often passed through a metal filter. Vodkas that are repeatedly filtered are more expensive.
Is Vodka High in Calories? – All alcohol is pretty high in calories, but some drinks are better for dieters. For fans of vodka, the good news is that it contains just 65 calories per shot. You can make it more diet friendly by blending it with low-calorie mixers like Pepsi Max, or light fruit juices, like orange or cranberry. Alternatively, if you choose a premium brand you may prefer drinking it on the rocks.
5 Great Quality Brands of Vodka
Fashions come and go in the world of spirits, but over the last century vodka has enjoyed a steady rise to fame. The best brands deliver a drink with some degree of flavour, but also body, texture and smoothness. Some can be sipped neat over ice, but most of us also want a vodka which mixes well. Here are six great brands to consider:
Grey Goose – A distinctly sweet and smooth spirit, Grey Goose is even described as nutty by some reviewers. Made in France, it’s a familiar sight on British supermarket shelves and is an excellent all-rounder. The finish is creamy on the palate and care has gone into the distillation process, so sipping it neat is a pleasant experience. The packaging has a chic French quality, and you can often pick up limited edition bottles. Drink this wheat-based spirit with light flavours like citrus or elderflower, to enhance its freshness. Grey Goose has an alcohol content of 40%.
Belvedere – According to the Polish manufacturers, Belvedere is ‘the world’s first luxury vodka’. It’s made using water from underground springs and distilled four times over, creating a silky finish with elements of citrus and spice running through. The aroma is pleasantly lemony, and this an especially soft vodka. The bottle features a frosted effect with Warsaw’s Belweder Palace printed on the back. When you look from the front, it’s like glimpsing the building on a frosty day. Belvedere tastes good with citrus mixers, but is smooth enough to be chilled and sipped if you prefer, the ABV is 40%.
Smirnoff – A ubiquitous brand throughout the UK, Smirnoff is one of the best value vodkas around. It is sold in different alcohol contents and flavours, and makes an excellent mixer. Although the brand’s original distillery was founded in Moscow during the 1800s, the drink is now owned by global alcohol firm, Diageo. It is filtered through ten different stages and triple distilled, but retains a slight bitterness that’s common in non-premium brands. Smirnoff may not be particularly smooth, but it’s still a solid spirit that works well in cocktails. The red label version has an ABV content of 37.5%.
Absolut – The Swedish vodka Absolut has cultivated a reputation as a premium yet affordable choice. On the whole this is deserved, as the winter wheat base makes for a very mellow spirit and any bitterness has a tang of liquorish to take the edge off. This is another good choice for people who love citrus mixers or cocktails, and there are plenty of flavoured versions to test out. In a nod to the drink’s supposed medicinal properties, the bottle is designed to look like an old apothecary bottle from the 1700s. Absolut has an ABV content of 40%.
Crystal Head – A celebrity vodka that’s actually a quality drink, Crystal Head has a stunning glass skull bottle and an impressive recipe. It was launched in 2007 by Dan Aykroyd of Ghostbusters fame, in collaboration with Texan artist, John Alexander. Together they wanted to develop a vodka without any additives, and the result has been a huge hit. Unsurprising when you consider it’s produced with pure Newfoundland water and filtered through Herkimer diamonds, which are actually crystals dating back 500 million years. The net result is a sweet, easy drinking vodka with hints of caramel and a soft aftertaste. If you are looking for a gift or a talking point in your cocktail bar collection, this 40% ABV vodka is ideal.
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Vodka Cocktails Recipes
There are lots of colourful and tasty vodka cocktails to try at home, or when you’re out for the night.
Vodka Martini – Easy to spot on the menus of many bars and restaurants, Vodka Martini cocktails are very simple to make from few ingredients.
One shot of dry vermouth
One shot of vodka
Pour the vodka and the dry vermouth into a shaker, then drop in some ice. Shake or stir depending on your preference and then strain the mixture into a martini glass. Add a few drops of bitters and garnish with a cherry or slice of lemon.
Bloody Mary – The correct ingredients for this classic cocktail are hotly debated, but usually, bartenders use the following recipe.
Two shots of vodka
One tablespoon of lemon juice
Three dashes of tabasco sauce
Six dashes of Worcestershire sauce
150ml tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Into a tall glass tip the vodka and ice, then add the remaining ingredients and stir until blended. Season and serve.
Cosmopolitan – Celebrated by the TV series, Sex and the City, a cosmo combines the sweetness of fruit with the warmth of vodka.
Two shots of vodka
One shot cointreau
Splash of cranberry juice
Teaspoon of lime juice
Add ice to a cocktail shaker and pour in the other ingredients. Shake well and strain into the glass.
Tips on Buying Vodka at a Good Rate
You can buy various types of cheap vodka at online stores like 31Dover, Drink Supermarket and BargainBooze. They have a huge selection of brands and flavours, as well as collectible bottles and gift sets. Luxury and premium vodkas can be ordered for home delivery from Selfridges and Waitrose, or straight from independent producers like Black Cow or Ciroc, or Arbikie. Supermarkets also stock an ever-widening supply of brands, so you can browse instore or online for niche vodkas and better known labels.
There are vodka deals to be had all year round, so just be sure to have a good look before you stock up for the festive season or summer barbeques. The cheapest vodka in supermarkets often appears in the weeks leading up to Christmas, at stores like Tesco, Asda and Morrisons. You can also shop for vodka offers in the spring, when shops lower their prices to attract customers who may not usually buy alcohol that time of year. During the Black Friday event, online retailers like Amazon and high street stores like Marks and Spencer cut prices on their spirits by up to half price.
Vodka Offers at hotukdeals
Whether it's for a special celebration or to refill a cocktail cabinet, consumers can find up to date bargains on spirits at hotukdeals. We publish news of every reduction on our vodka offers page.