10 Terms Every Vodka Drinker Should Know
From triple distilled to charcoal filtered, vodka has its own category of liquor lingo that every fan of the spirit should know. If you’ve ever wondered if wheat vodka is gluten-free or what separates a premium vodka from Georgi’s, then this guide is for you. Here, 10 liquor terms that every vodka lover should know.
Double, Triple or Quadruple Distilled
This term refers to how many times the distillate is passed through the still. Each pass further removes congeners and impurities in the spirit, which creates a cleaner, purer and more flavorless product. Multiple distillations reduce the quantity of the liquid each time it’s put through the still, resulting in a higher ABV with each pass. Allegedly, the more times a product is distilled, the smoother the spirit is on the palate. But it’s important to remember that smoothness and drinkability is also contingent upon the quality of the spirit prior to distillation. A poorly fermented, low-quality product will result in a mediocre tasting spirit no matter how many times it’s distilled.
Vodkas are charcoal filtered after distillation to further remove any fatty acids and congeners that remain in the spirit. It’s also believed that charcoal filtration helps remove off-flavors in the vodka to create the purest, best tasting product.
Distilled From Wheat
Wheat is one of the most popular grains used in vodka production because it’s cheap to grow and produces a high yield. Traditionally found in Russia, wheat vodkas tend to have an oily mouthfeel and cleaner flavor (because they contain less congeners than corn or potato vodkas) with an aniseed note on the finish. Russian Standard, Stolichnaya, Grey Goose and Absolut Vodka are all primarily made from wheat.
Distilled From Rye
Rye is the most common grain used in traditional Polish and new American craft vodkas from the Northeast. A vodka produced from rye grains has a white pepper heat, slight nuttiness and a piquant sweetness. Commonly known brands of rye vodka are Belvedere, Żubrówka, and Square One.
Distilled From Potatoes
Because potatoes have a lower yield than grains, these vodkas are the hardest and most expensive to produce, which makes them less common. On the palate, potato vodkas have a creamy flavor and texture, with a weighty, almost velvety mouthfeel. It’s actually better to leave potato vodkas unfiltered and reduce the number of distillations to create a more flavorful, earthy vodka (Woody Creek is a prime example of this). Commonly known brands are Monopolowa, Luksusowa, Reyka and Chopin.
Distilled From Corn
Corn vodka is a nouveau style of the spirit and a product of the American West. Similar to unaged moonshine but more stripped and flavorless, these vodkas have subtle whiskey notes on the palate, like buttered popcorn and sweet creamed corn. Tito’s and Smirnoff are the most commonly known corn vodkas, and both are American made.
Distilled From Barley
Barley is the least common cereal grain used to produce vodka, and it’s usually blended with other grains in the mash prior to distillation. Vodkas made from 100 percent barley are common in Finland, with brands like Finlandia and Koskenkorva gaining the most popularity and recognition. These vodkas tend to have a slightly sweet, almost honeyed flavor with bready, yeasty notes on the palate. As you sip them, they leave a touch of oiliness on the glass.
This is a buzz word invented by marketing companies to create value and hype for the spirit. While there is no official designation as to what a premium vodka really is, legally or otherwise, the term commonly refers to a spirit’s price point. Any vodka that is priced above $45 is considered a “premium” product.
A neutral spirit is defined as "without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color" by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. By theses definitions, most vodkas are not neutral spirits—even if they aim to be. Everclear and extremely low quality, bottom-shelf vodkas can be considered neutral spirits, and most low-end flavored vodkas start with neutral spirits because they’re cheap to buy or produce.
This loose vodka term isn’t found on the label and has no formal or legal definition, but it’s still important to know. More than 70 percent of vodka that’s currently on the market is produced in Europe, in the countries that make up the Vodka Belt, which includes the Nordic states (Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland), Baltic states (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania), Russia, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine.