Vodka Words, Terms, Trivia, Cocktail Recipes, Resources, and More

I. Vodka: What is It?

Vodka is a clear, colorless, tasteless, neutral distilled spirit. Producers don’t age it. Distillers have commonly make it from potatoes or grains.


I.    Vodka: What is It?

II.   Trivia

III.  Terms

IV.   Resources

V.    References

People around the world drink more vodka than any other distilled spirit. To be specific, they drink about 4.44 billion liters per year. That’s much more than they consume of rum, the second most popular. People consume about 1.44 billion liters of rum each year.

People tend to associate vodka with potatoes. However, today most is distilled from corn, barley, rye, and other grains. Producers distill most vodka at least three times to remove impurities. This increases the alcohol content. To reduce it to standard levels, producers add water to achieve the desired level. They also usually filter it as well.

National Vodka Day in the U.S. is October 4.

Most vodka today is 40% alcohol by volume (ABV). That’s 80 proof. The E.U. requires it to be at least 37.5 ABV. The U.S. requirement is at least 30% ABV.

There are two major categories of vodka. One is neutral or unflavored. The other is flavored. Popular flavors include vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon, various fruits, ginger, and red pepper. But there are many more.

Vodka Belt

Alcohol Belts

The “vodka belt” consists of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and central and eastern Poland. (In the map, blue is the vodka belt. Brown is the beer and purple is the wine belt.) People in the vodka belt tend to drink their vodka neat. That is without chilling it, pouring it over ice cubes, or mixing it with anything.

Elsewhere, people tend to drink it in cocktails and mixed drinks. Some of the most popular include these. (Click link for recipe.)

A screwdriver walked into a bar. The bartender said “Hey, we have a drink named after you!”

The screwdriver said “You have a drink called a Phillip?”

Moscow Mule
Bloody Mary
White Russian
Black Russian
Sex on the Beach
Vodka Tonic 
Vodka Martini

These are the most popular brands.


Clever Ad

Grey Goose
Hangar One
Ketel One
Three Olives
Van Gogh
White Diamond

Most people choose their favorite by sampling a variety.

II. Trivia.

This popular beverage…

  • Contains no gluten, salt, carbohydrates, cholesterol, or fats of any kind.1
  • Is completely clear, colorless, and tasteless when distilled.2
  • Is less likely to cause hangover than any other alcoholic beverage. That’s because it contains virtually no congeners.3
  • Can be made from virtually anything that will ferment.4
  • Is vegan.5
  • Means “little water” in Russian.
  • vodkaCosts almost twice as much as it would otherwise because of very high taxes.7
  • Can’t be over about 190 proof. That’s about 95% alcohol. At higher proof, the alcohol draws moisture from the air and self-dilutes.8
  • Is so high-proof that it won’t freeze in the typical home freezer.9
  • First became popular in the U.S. because of the Moscow Mule cocktail.10
  • Replaced scotch as the best-selling spirit in the world around 1975.11
  • Was often part of religious ceremonies in Russia.12
  • Has higher alcohol content the more times producers distill it.13

More Trivia

About 25% of all alcohol that people consume around the world is vodka or contains the beverage.14

vodkaDistillation emerged during the Middle Ages. The alcohol produced was aqua vitae or “water of life.”15

Making vodka requires both fermenting and distilling.16

Each molecule of alcohol is less than a billionth of a meter long. It consists of a few atoms of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen.17

Go get it!

There’s a cloud of alcohol in outer space with enough alcohol to make four trillion-trillion drinks. It’s free. Unfortunately, it’s 10,000 light years away from Earth.18

Our body absorbs alcohol in a carbonated drink faster than in an un-carbonated one.19

All vitamins and minerals necessary for human life exist in alcohol beverages.20

III. Vodka Words & Terms

ABV is alcohol by volume.

ABW is alcohol by weight.

vodkaAlcohol refers to ethyl alcohol or ethanol, the type in alcoholic beverages. It also commonly refers to alcoholic beverage in general. The word alcohol is from the Arabic “al kohl,” meaning the essence.

Alcohol equivalence. Standard servings of beer, dinner wine or distilled spirit all have six-tenths of one ounce of alcohol.

  Vodka or Water of Life

Distillers first made vodka or “water of life” for medicinal purposes. But it’s still useful medically. In Australia, it saved a man’s life. He had consumed ethylene glycol. That’s a common ingredient of antifreeze and can cause kidney failure.

Alcohol is administered to such patients because it inhibits the toxic effects of ethylene glycol. But the hospital soon ran out of its pharmaceutical alcohol.

So doctors switched to other alcohol. They drip-fed him the equivalent of three shots of vodka per hour for three days. Fortunately he recovered after receiving the “water of life.”21

Aqua vitae (ah-kwuh-vee-tie) or “water of life” is the original name of distilled spirits. Distillers first made them for medicinal and health purposes. Research now shows that moderate drinkers of spirits tend to have better health than either abstiners or heavy drinkers. They also tend to live significantly longer. (The same is true of beer and of wine drinkers.)

Call Drink. When a customer orders a drink giving the brand names of both spirit and mixer. For example, Smirnoff and Coke.

Column Still

Column still. Distillers pump fermented material continuously into a tall column. Steam rises and evaporates the alcohol. Distillers can continue the process repeatedly. Other names are beer still, continuous still, and Coffey still. See pot still.

Congeners are substances in alcohol. Darker alcoholic beverages have higher levels. They add flavors. Unfortunately, they can make a hangover worse. But the lighter the beverage, the fewer congeners.

DISCUS is the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. It’s a trade group of leading distillers.

vodkaDistillation is how distillers separate alcohol from water. Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water. Therefore, it evaporates first. Distillers then condense it back into liquid.

Distilled spirits refers to ethanol that distillers produce by distillation. See distillation.

Fermentation occurs when yeast convert sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Fermenter is a container in which distillers add yeast to the mash to begin fermentation.

vodkaHighballs are made with almost any distilled spirit, ice, and any of a number of carbonated beverages.

Jigger is a container for measuring liquids when making mixed drinks.


Liquor historically referred to any alcohol beverage. However, today it generally refers only to distilled spirits.

Mash. The mixture of cooked grains and water before distillers add yeast is to start fermentation.

Neat is a spirit with no ice, mixers, or chilling. That is, it’s right out of the bottle.

On the rocks is a beverage poured over ice cubes.

vodkaPackage store is another name in the US for liquor store. Package stores sell “package goods.”  That’s because of laws requiring that alcohol containers not be visible in public. Therefore, clerks place them in paper bags or “packages.”

Pot still. With a pot still, producers distill alcohol one batch at a time in a pot or container. See column still.

Proof is a measure of alcoholic level in a beverage in the U.S. It’s twice the alcohol by volume. For example, a 40% ABV would be 80 proof. Many countries use ABV instead

Shooter is a mixed drink. The bartender serves it straight up in a small glass. The drinker swallows the drink in one gulp. Differs from neat because it contains a mixer.

Straight up or up is a chilled spirit or mixed drink without ice.

Tonic water is a slightly bitter, carbonated beverage with quinine flavor.

Yeast are single cell organisms. They convert sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

IV. Popular Vodka Resources

Looking for cocktail recipes? Some fascinating background? Home distilling? Interesting stories? Unusual uses for the clear spirit? You’re at the right place!

Andrews, P. 50 Quick Cocktail Recipes. Luton, Eng: Andrews, 2010.

vodkaBaker, J. and Webster, V. Supermarket Super Products! Wixom, MI: American Master, 2003.

Coomes, S. The Home Distiller’s Guide to Spirits: Reviving the Art of Home Distilling. Richmond Hill, Ont: Firefly, 2015.

Ehmer, K. The School of Sophisticated Drinking: an Intoxicating History of Seven Spirits. Vancouver: Greystone, 2015.

vodkaElliott, P. 100 Proof: Tips and Tales for Spirited Drinkers Everywhere. NY: Penguin, 2000.

Foley, R. Vodka 1000: the Ultimate Collection of Cocktails, Recipes, Facts, and Resources. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2007.

Hallay, A. and Wolfe, D. Classic Cocktails: Time-honored Recipes for the Home Bartender. NY: Skyhorse, 2014.

Knorr, P. Moonshine Cocktails: the Ultimate Cocktail Companion for Clear Spirits and Home Distillers. Beverly, MA: Quarry, 2015.

Miller, V. Craft Distilling: Making Liquor Legally at Home. Gabriola, BC: New Society, 2016.

vodkaMorris, R. and Cummings, E. The Joy of Home Distilling: the Ultimate Guide. NY: Skyhorse, 2014.

Spivak, M. Iconic Spirits: an Intoxicating History. Lanham: Lyons, 2012.

Teacher, M. The Home Distilling & Infusing Handbook. Kennebunkport: Cider Miller, 2015.

V. References

1  Calories, Carbs, and Fat in Popular Beverages.

2  Roueche, B. The Neutral Spirit: A Portrait of Alcohol. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960, p. 84.

3  The Role of Beverage Congeners in Hangover.

4  Strange Brew.

5  Vegan Alcohol.

6    Roueche, B. Alcohol in Human Culture. In: Lucia, S., (Ed.) Alcohol and Civilization. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1963, p. 174.

7  Alcohol Taxes.

8   Mingo, J., and Barrett, E. Just Curious, Jeeves. Emeryville, CA: Ask Jeeves, 2000, p. 269.

9  ThoughtCo.

10 The Federalist.

11 Ibid.

12 Stuck in the Bottle.

13 Liquor 101.

14 Useless Knowledge.

15 Cherrington, E. (Ed.) Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 1929. Vol. 5, p. 2,383.

16 Small. R., et al. Beverage Basics. Hoboken: Wiley, 2011.

17 History of Drinking. The Economist, Dec 22, 2001, p. 29.

18 Elliott, P. 100 Proof: Tips and Tales for Spirited Drinkers Everywhere. NY: Penguin, 2000, p. 28.

19  Carvey, P.  Drug Action in the Central Nervous System. NY: Oxford U Press, 1988.

20  Ford, G. Wine, Beer and Spirits: the World’s Most Versatile Health Foods, in press, ch. 14.

21 Vodka drip saves poisoned Italian. Washington Post, Oct 10, 2007.)

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