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What is vodka made from?

One of the first questions we get is usually “isn’t vodka only made
from potatoes?” Vodka can be made from potatoes, but the majority of
vodka is actually made from grains such as wheat and rye, with potato
vodka only a small fraction.

The statement that often follows is that Russian vodka is made with potatoes. Let us consider a few of the top Russian vodkas:

1. Russian Standard- made from winter wheat

2. Mamont – made from winter wheat

3. Moskovskaya Osobaya- made from wheat

4. Green Mark- made from winter wheat

5. Kauffman- wheat

6. Stolichnaya (Russia and Latvia)- wheat and rye

 

Of course there are many more high quality Russian vodka brands, but
the vast majority of them are made from grains, not potatoes. A few of
the popular Polish brands of vodka are made from potatoes though, such
as Luksusowa and Chopin.

So what is vodka actually made from?

Vodka is made from any source of starch or sugar plus yeast. Starch
is just a long chain of sugars, with the help of enzymes, it can be
broken down into sugar. Hence, vodka can be made from any source of
starch or any source of sugar, but if using starch, it will need to be
converted to sugar first.

Sources of starch include:

1. Wheat

2. Rye

3. Corn

4. Rice

5. Potatoes

6. Barley

7. Soy

8. Sorghum

Sources of sugar include:

1. Sugar cane

2. Molasses

3. Sugar beets

4. Honey, maple syrup

5. Fruits such as grapes, apples, plums

There are many other sources of starch or sugar, such as sheeps whey and figs, too many to list here!

 

 

Figure 1: Starch diagram

In the above diagram of starch, you will see there is 4 sets of
molecules joined together (a real starch molecule will have countless
units connected). Each one of these 4 molecules is glucose (the simplest
type of sugar). Types of sugar include glucose, sucrose, fructose,
lactose and a few others.

The enzymes which are used to convert starch to sugar are
alpha-amylase and glucoamylase. These enzymes are proteins which help
chop sugar molecules off a long chain of starch. They can either be
manufactured separately and added to the starch and water in a large
mixing tank, or made completely naturally by malting grains. Read more
about malting grains in an upcoming post!

Once there is a source of sugar, it is a matter of cooling the sugar
and water solution to the correct temperature, adding yeast which will
start a fermentation and then sealing up the tank to prevent infections.
Yeast eats sugar and produces alcohol and this is what vodka is made
from.

What is the best material to make vodka from?

Now that we know vodka can be made from any source of starch or sugar
plus yeast, which is the best? Which type should you choose? There are
too many confounding factors in the production of vodka to make a call
on this and it also comes down to personal preference. Fermentation
temperature, yeast type, quality of the ingredients, distillation column
height and many more factors all change the flavour of a finished
vodka. Try lots and you be the judge!

More articles:

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