Vodka is a chameleon and blends seamlessly with just about anything. This is no accident: While there are no universal rules for producing the spirit, the final product is supposed to be colorless, odorless and tasteless. With that said, vodka isn’t completely neutral, and a number of distillers actually leave in a good amount of flavor. (The best way to taste these subtle differences is to drink vodka neat at room temperature.)
Traditionally, vodka was made from potatoes, corn or grains, but it is now made from a range of exotic bases including grapes, maple syrup and even soybeans. Unlike Scotches and cognacs, which are made in pot stills, vodka is usually produced in a high-volume, continuous column still. After distillation, the spirit is filtered to remove any remaining impurities. Coal is a traditional filter, but brands today use a range of materials, even including diamonds. Vodka isn’t aged and can be bottled and sold immediately after production. What’s also helping to drive sales in America is the wide range of flavored vodkas now on the market.
While the spirit may be clear, its history isn’t. No one is sure where it was first made. Each vodka-producing country, of course, claims to be the inventor. What we do know is that people began drinking vodka in America as early as the beginning of the 20th century. Sales of the spirit were low until after World War II, when Americans began to shift away from Scotch and bourbon. This movement was helped by Smirnoff’s aggressive marketing in the ‘50s and ‘60s and later by the introduction of the Swedish Absolut and the super-premium Grey Goose. Today, vodka is the most popular spirit in America and outsells rum, tequila and gin combined.