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Vodka is one of the most simple alcohols out there, but that doesn’t mean anyone can whip up a batch of it pronto. It may be simple, but, when made wrong, vodka can be dangerous. In worst cases, a poorly made vodka can lead to death.
So, how do vodka companies go about making this signature, clear, fragrance-less, colorless drink?
Step 1 - Gathering Ingredients
Vodka can be made from a pretty wide range of things. Potatoes and wheat are most popular, but grapes, corn, and grass are all common vodka bases.
The ingredients, and the way those ingredients are treated, can be the cause of a good, bad, or deadly vodka. Take potatoes for instance. If you don’t get healthy potatoes, and/or if you don’t clean them properly, imperfections can find their way into the finished product, causing a bad taste, texture, or chemical makeup.
Step 2 - Fermentation
Like with any alcoholic beverage, the base ingredients have to ferment in order to create alcohol. In basic terms, yeast is added to the potatoes, grains, grapes, corn, grass, or other ingredient, which is then put aside and left to go through a chemical reaction. In established vodka companies, this takes place in giant, specially made vats.
Yeast + sugar = alcohol. So, the natural sugars in the base ingredient will be ‘eaten’ by the yeast. This is how our beloved alcohol is born. This process can take 3 days to a few weeks depending on the ingredients used and the desired ABV.
Step 3 - Distillation
Proper distillation is probably the most important aspect of making a good -- and safe -- vodka. When distilling, the brewer has to make sure that they are distilling out any imperfections, such as propanol and methanol. Methanol is especially dangerous, as just 2 tablespoons of it can kill you.
You don’t have to fear any methanol in today’s vodka selections, but this is the reason why amateur homemade vodkas and super low-quality vodkas should be avoided -- among other reasons.
Distilling a vodka means that you are gradually giving it a higher ABV, as well as making it cleaner. Vodka has an incredibly high ABV -- 40%! To get that high number, the alcohol created by the yeast has to be separated from the water and yeast waste using distillation -- evaporation and condensation.
After a few rounds of the distillation process, the purest alcohol has been amassed and separated. This pure alcohol is called the heart. Each additional process of distilling gets rid of the head and tail, aka the top and bottom of the batch. The head and tail don’t taste as good as the heart, and are often discarded.
How Vodka is Made?
What About Flavored Vodkas?
To get a flavored vodka, the additional ingredients are added to the vodka after distillation. Take orange vodka, for example. The oranges can be crushed up or juiced, then either added to the plain vodka, or steeped and taken out once the vodka has absorbed enough of the orange flavor.
Less natural flavorings can also be used, and are found as a syrup or flavored liquid that gets mixed into the vodka.
To Wrap Up
Vodka-making can be a very exact art, as only the heart (which adds up to 30% of the entire vodka batch) is going to taste great. With some yeast and a good still, any serious vodka-lover can brew a batch of homemade vodka.
If you’re feeling inspired to dip your toe into the world of alcohol making, and want to make your own vodka, go for it! Just remember to use the best ingredients and put it through multiple distilling processes to make sure it’s safe to drink.