How to make Vodka
Vodka is a distilled spirit which is composed mainly of ethanol and water. Traditionally, it is made out of fermented cereals, grains or potatoes, though some modern brands have been known to use fruits and sugars. Vodka can be made from different materials that can be fermented into alcohol but the ingredients you use will affect its flavor.
When certain yeast products metabolize sugar, most notably saccharomyces cerevisiae, they produce ethanol and other alcohols as well as carbon dioxide and heat. If the vodka is being made from grain, which is the most common method these days, the grain will have to be heated to form a mash initially. If potatoes are being used, then a potato mash will have to be made. Amylase and diastase enzymes are added to break down the starch molecules into simple sugars which can be fermented effectively; mainly glucose and a small amount of maltose.
Distillation and Filtration
Filtration is an important component in the production of modern vodkas. Filtering is often done in the sill during distillation as well as after distillation through media, such as activated charcoal, to absorb trace materials which could give the vodka an “off-flavor.” On the other hand, traditional vodka producers from countries like Poland and Russia prefer not to filter their vodkas. Instead, they take extra care to produce a very specific product during the distillation phase so that any present trace amounts actually contribute towards giving the vodka its desired flavor.
The distillation and filtration of vodka is usually overlooked by the master distiller, which includes removal of the “fore-shots,” “heads” and “tails”. The distillation is repeated until the taste is modified and the clarity of the spirit is increased until an end-product is achieved that we call vodka!
Hydration and the importance of quality water
Any good vodka distillery will have to be near a plentiful source of soft water which is low in salts and ions. Distillers favor water low in sodium, chloride, calcium carbonate, calcium sulphate and magnesium. This ensures that the water will not bring any undesired outside flavor to the vodka when it is finished.
When water is blended with ethanol, there is a reaction generating small amounts of heat. Therefore, many distillers prefer hydrating their spirit gradually and slowly reducing it to bottling strength. Often, the vodka is left to rest to let the spirit and water coalesce.
Vodkas from Eastern Europe and Russia tend to use honey as a “softening agent”, something to reduce the peppery burning feel of ethanol and to add flavor. Western vodkas prefer to use sugar for this effect.
Some distillers also add glycerin or glycerol to their vodka. It is tasteless and colorless and its main purpose is to give a slight increase to the viscosity of the vodka.
Many types of vodka also contain citric acid. Citric acid is again used to impart a lemony or zesty flavor to the vodka. Moreover, it is used because it is a natural preservative.
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