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Vodka is undoubtedly one of the most famous spirits in the world, made from cereals or potatoes, and originated in the cold lands of Eastern Europe: both Poland and Russia are major producers and consider themselves the inventors of this icy alcoholic beverage.
Vodka is perhaps the most rebellious and atypical of all spirits: while whisky, gin, rum, tequila, grappa and brandy try to extract every possible flavour from the distillation process and then age in wood or are flavoured with botanicals to add other scents and flavours, vodka does the opposite.
The number of distillations changes, but the process is always the same. Grains (barley or wheat) or potatoes are ground and water is added and fermented with selected yeasts so that this sort of ‘beer’ reaches 8 degrees of alcohol. At this point we start with the first distillation: our beer is heated and the steam collected in a cooler where it condenses. The second distillation usually removes heads and tails, the lighter and heavier substances such as aldens, esters and sulphur dioxide, which are then redistilled.
The name vodka is also reminiscent of purity: voda is water in many Slavic languages. A magical water, another spirit that warms, refreshes and chases away the cold. But thanks to clever marketing manoeuvres and cocktails, such as the Moscow Mule and Sex on the Beach, invented to launch vodka on the US market, they have discovered that vodka is fabulous for making cocktails. Because it has no flavour, it doesn’t change the taste of the ingredients, but enhances them with its own alcoholic depth: perhaps the inventor of vodka really has found the philosopher’s stone. Gin is resinous, rum is aromatic, tequila is lysergic, cachaça is enveloping and fruity, vodka is warm and sharp and you can combine it with virtually any ingredient, juice or bitter.