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Dictionary > Vodka Taste & Quality

Vodka 101: Taste and Quality
By Pat Couteaux, Master Distiller for Shakers Vodka

Ingredients, distillation and filteration are the three important things that determine vodka's general caliber, price and its taste.

Based on the type and quality of the ingredients, smoothness gets better and worse. Corn, potatoes, molasses, barley, rye and wheat are the common ingredients for vodka. Vodkas made from corn tend to be fairly neutral in taste; those made from wheat have a soft, smooth character, others carry hints of the fruit essences they contain.

Vodka Grades: A Quick Guide to Profile and Prices
Grade Well Better Premium Ultra-Premium
Typical
Ingredients
Corn, milo, sorghum and other inexpensive sources of starch Corn, milo, sorghum and other inexpensive sources of starch A single, better quality ingredient like potato, soy or wheat A single, better quality ingredient like potato, soy or wheat
Distillation 2 - 3 columns 2 - 3 columns 2 - 4 columns 2 - 6 columns
Filtration Typically none None or simple charcoal filtering None to more involved charcoal filtering None to very complex filtering
Taste Burns A little burny, no individual character Less burny to somewhat smooth, can exhibit individual character True smoothness, more pronounced individual character
Source: Shakers Vodka

The trick to distillation is to keep the good-tasting parts while getting rid of impurities. Most distillers have their own secret distillation process for trying to accomplish the balance between purity and taste.

Continuous still are commonly used by vodka distillers although some still use pot stills. Continuous stills offer greater control over temperature, purity level and taste. In general, the more columns used, the higher the purity, and the higher the price.

To taste different vodkas, use a small shot glass and serve chilled. Start with the aroma. The lesser ones smell a bit like rubbing alcohol. Hold it in your mouth for a short while, then swallow. The top vodkas should be smooth with very little burn.

A hint of spiciness from rye, a slight sweetness from wheat, hints of fruit? And finally, decide if you like it, that is what it's all about.

Pat Couteaux, Master Distiller for Shakers Vodka contributed this story.


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