Vodka

Raw materials 

Any agricultural product can be used. Plants that produce viable crops are used from practical reasons

Traditional Eastern Europe 

  • ​barley

  • wheat

  • rye

  • potatoes 

Modern alternatives 

  • molasses

  • grapes

  • corn (maize) 

Wheat 

  • vinous texture, hint of anise 

Rye 

  • zesty and spicy

Barley

  • clean and crisp

Potatoes

  • fuller bodied and creamy texture > higher methanol content

Processing the raw materials 

Grains 

  • cooked to hydrolyse the starch

  • final conversion is done with the addition of enzymes 

  • malted barley is expensive, are not obligated to use enzmyes from this source

Potatoes 

  • peeled and cooked to hydrolyse the starch

  • cooked until the potato has completely broken down until it resembles runny mashed potato

  • final conversion is done with the addition of enzymes

Image below - Rye 

Fermentation

​Yeast 

  • important decision > this is where a lot of flavour can be created

  • neutral flavour vodka - aim is to create a light spirit. A yeast strain is used that creates as few congeners

  • after sugar solution is prepared yeast is added 

  • care must be taken to ensure no other micro-organisms contaminate the solution, this can cause unwanted congeners

  • large scale production - continuous fermentation. up to 90% of the alcoholic liquid is discarded. A huge amount of alcoholic liquid is required to produce a large vodka brand 

Distillation

EU LAW > minimum 96% - flavour of the raw materials are reduced 

Methanol > 10g/HL - almost all vodka needs to go through a demethylising column 

USA LAW > minimum 95% - w/o distinctive character, aroma, taste or colour 

Continous Distilaltion 

  • HRS can only be achieved in a column still 

  • only practical option as large amount of liquid are used in the production of vodka 

  • HRS can be made using 2 columns if the rectifier has enough plates - 42 

  • de-methylising for most EU vodka needs to take place 

  • if producing a neutral character vodka - multiple column arrangement

Multiple column operation

  1. anaylser/stripper

  2. rectifier

  3. hydroselector > remove fusel oils 

  4. 2nd rectifier > bring the low strength product back up to 95/96%abv

  5. de-methyliser > remove methanol 

Batch Distillation

  • small scale producers, not able to produce the alcoholic liquid for continuous distillation

  • 1st distillation > separate all of the volatile fractions from some of the water

  • 2nd distillation > collecting the heads, heart and tails 

  • before anything can be collected the fractions need to find their place in the column, which can take several hours

  • liquid is heated and vapours rise up to the top of the still where there is a head condenser > reflux happens

  • slowly the liquid forms on every tray through the continuous action of reflux and rectification

  • fractions start to separate out across the plates 

  • when the distiller is happy collection of the heads/hearts/tails can begin

  • heads > these fractions are at the top of the still 

  • methanol rich heads are run off first

  • heart is collected

  • the ethanol will runs out, cut to the tails. The distiller can tell as the temperature on the plates at the base of the still begin to rise towards 100c as their is a drop in the concentration of ethanol

  • heads and tails are redistilled with the next batch

Pot Stills 

  • HRS can only be achieved in a column still

  • pot still is used after it was become a HRS

  • HRS is diluted with water and put through a pot still

  • cuts are made according to the distillers preferences 

  • impact on the flavour is small 

  • smooth out the mouth feel

Image below - Column distillation

Post Distillation

almost all is unaged, most producers do oak age their vodka, this is a rarity.

Charcoal Filtration 

  • activated charcoal

  • remove congeners 

  • used for neutral style vodka 

  • charcoal is made by burning carbon-rich materials (wood) in a low oxygen environment rearranging the carbon atoms and creating a net that can trap large molecules

  • optional process

  • some do NOT use, removes congeners that have a positive influence 

 

Chill filtration 

  • most use

  • crystal clear appearance

  • important for vodkas served well chilled

Water 

  • vodka is almost 40% water (added after distillation)

  • purity is important 

Other 

  • glycerol or sugar to add body, without effecting flavour

Styles 

Neutral vodka 

  • light flavour

  • multiple column

  • charcoal filtration

  • popular among consumers 

  • best example is Smirnoff 

Characterful vodka 

  • maintain flavour from the grain used 

  • Wheat > vinous, anise 

  • Rye > zesty and spicy

  • Barley > clean and crisp

  • Potato > full and creamy 

Flavoured vodka

Traditional

  • earliest vodkas were flavoured 

  • early recipes include - rowan berries, cherries and honey

  • natural flavourings 

  • best example Zubrowka - flavoured with aromatic herb bison grass 

Modern 

  • almost apart of every vodka brand

  • typically fruit flavoured other include - spices, caramel, pepper - no limits 

  • consumer trend

  • nature-identical flavourings

  • premium eg - natural flavourings 

  • cold compounding - simple and cheapest method, flavour concentrates are added directly to the spirit

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