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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Vodka But Were Afraid to Ask

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Arguably the simplest spirit of them all, vodka is still quite mysterious if you haven’t taken the time to get to know it. That clear little shot hides a lot of secrets, from where and how the booze is made, to its exact makeup, to how its best served. Here, all of those nagging vodka questions answered once and for all.

What’s vodka made from?

Basically anything that can be fermented to make alcohol can be distilled to make vodka. Potatoes, grains and fruits are common bases but distillers use everything from sugar beets to milk whey.

How much alcohol is in vodka?

By law, vodka has to be distilled to 190-proof strength (or 95-percent ABV) but it usually doesn’t make it into the bottle that way (or else that shot of vodka would be a heck of a lot harder to choke down). After distillation, the proof is lowered with water, resulting in a spirit that’s at least 80-proof (40-percent ABV). Many distillers choose to drive the alcohol down to this minimum to make the smoothest possible product.

Where does vodka come from?

Just as pretty much anything can go into vodka, it can be made pretty much anywhere. A bloc of countries in Eastern Europe, including Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Scandinavia, are collectively referred to as the Vodka Belt, since they produce the majority of vodka consumed across the EU. But American vodka production is booming too.

How many calories are in vodka?

While straight vodka is pretty low in calories, so is every other straight spirit. Simply put, a shot contains just under 100 calories, but the real answer is slightly more complicated. And if you’re exclusively drinking Vodka Sodas to stay under a calorie limit, know there are plenty of other cocktails that are equally light.

Does vodka have carbs?

While vodka does have some calories, it has zero carbs. Even vodkas based on carbohydrates like grains are carb-free by the end of distillation.

Does vodka have sugar?

Like carbs, sugar is pretty much obliterated during distillation. Flavored vodkas have plenty of sugar from sweet ingredients added after distillation, but the straight stuff is sugar free.

Is vodka gluten free?

Distillation not only rids vodka of any carbs, but it also disposes of the gluten in carbohydrate-rich bases. Assuming a distiller doesn’t add any other ingredients after completing distillation (say, by flavoring the vodka), any bottle of vodka should be totally free of gluten.

Does vodka go bad?

Like other pure spirits, vodka will not go bad. The alcohol content is high enough to fend off any bacteria, so feel free to leave the bottle on your bar until the end of time.

Should you keep vodka in the freezer?

While you should avoid putting brown spirits like whiskey in your freezer, vodka is A-OK to pop in next to your ice tray. In fact, drinkers in many Eastern European cultures prefer their vodka well-chilled. Dropping the temp on your vodka evens out any of the harsher notes of the alcohol, while enriching the texture. Unlike other spirits which rely on congeners for flavor (which are hampered by intense cold), vodka is distilled to remove congeners, so its taste won’t suffer from a deep freeze.

Does vodka freeze?

Vodka can freeze but not in your freezer at home. The freezing point of a stand 80-proof vodka is minus 17 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average freezer runs at about zero degrees. While the liquid won’t freeze, you may notice the texture is ever-so-slightly thicker after chilling a bottle (a texture many vodka drinkers prefer).

Is there a difference between cheap vodka and expensive vodka?

Despite the persistent belief that all vodka is the same, there’s a big difference between good and bad vodkas. Good vodkas don’t smell like acetone, are smooth as you sip them and actually pack real flavor. Bad vodkas taste like waxing feels, and are better used to remove mold and adhesive labels. That being said, price does not necessarily imply quality; there are several cheap vodka brands we actually love.

What are some vodka drinks to make with a good vodka?

Maligned as it may be, the classic Vodka Soda isn’t incapable of showing off a nice bottle of vodka. The same goes for the Vodka Martini. The Moscow Mule, Bloody Mary and Cosmopolitan all benefit from a quality vodka as well.   

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