Vodka is a master of disguise — and that's intentional. There are no universal rules for producing vodka, but the final product is supposed to be odorless, colorless and tasteless — at least in theory. Distillers like to leave their mark, though, so they tend to sneak in at least some flavor so you know you're drinking their vodka. But mum's the word. It's a bit of an industry secret.
Vodka fans like it for its flexibility and its diversity. You can snag a cheap bottle for just a few bucks, or you can go for the good stuff if you feel like splurging.
How Vodka's Made:
Distillers craft their vodka with fermented grains or potatoes, though you'll also find vodka that comes from sugar alcohols or even exotic fruits. Some of the best-known vodka producers come from Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, though it's made all over the world. You'll even find a few bottles that originate in North America.
Unlike other forms of liquor, vodka often undergoes a multi-phase distillation process, which increases its alcohol content by — well, let's say a considerable margin. If you were to drink it straight, you'd probably find yourself under the table before your third shot.
That's why many producers cut it with distilled water. In America, Everclear offers the highest alcohol by volume at 95 percent, while a few Polish vodkas contain 98 percent alcohol by volume. If you give those heavy-hitters a try, make sure you have a ride home.
Key to vodka's explosion in America was the introduction of flavored vodka. Well, that and an enormous marketing push by Smirnoff in the '50s and '60s. Many vodka brands began adding flavor to the alcohol to make it more appealing to the average palette, and today, you can find almost any infusion you could dream of.
Try Smirnoff Raspberry, Svedka Mango Pineapple and CIROC Apple Vodka to dip your proverbial toes into the flavored vodka waters. Flavors add drinkability when you shoot vodka straight and can enhance cocktails if you prefer adding mixers to your beverage.
How to Drink It:
Since plain vodka doesn't have a strong flavor on its own, you might find it less than interesting to drink straight (though you can certainly still enjoy it this way). If you want some titillation for your taste buds, though, try mixing it with something else. You don't have to worry about conflicting flavors because vodka is basically a blank slate, so use your imagination.
Screwdrivers, martinis, bloody marys and greyhounds are just some of the classic cocktails. There's also the ubiquitous vodka and soda, which might help you feel more sophisticated, especially if you add a slice of lemon or a twist of lime to the rim of your glass. However, if you find yourself in possession of a particularly nice bottle, feel free to drink it neat, preferably in a cut-crystal tumbler.
Even if you drink it without any mixers, consider garnishing it with citrus fruit, a few green olives or even a slice or two of cucumber. For hot summer nights, a wedge of lime or lemon, as well as some of the juice from those fruits, can add refreshing flavor. Once you've tried all that, mix it up by chasing each sip with a bite of a strong pickle to bring out some of the subtle flavors — you'll love the contrast.