Vodka is one of the world's most well-known alcoholic beverages. Many people assume that vodka is composed purely of alcohol and a cutting agent to reduce the proof, but this is not always the case. Additives are mixed with vodka for various reasons and with various results.
No one is completely certain of the origins of vodka, but it does have deep cultural significance in Eastern European countries, Scandinavian countries and Russia. Vodka is a clear, odorless spirit distilled from grains or potatoes.
According to the rules set forth by the Food and Drug Administration, a beverage may contain small amounts, about 2 grams per liter, of sugar, glycerine or citric acid and still qualify to be labeled as vodka in the United States. These additives are usually used to cover up deficiencies in poorly made vodkas.
Some vodkas are "infused," which means that natural or artificial additives have been added to the vodka in order to give it a certain flavor. Popular infused vodkas can include spicy pepper, citrus or sweet berry flavors and are marketed by numerous vodka companies.
Despite its association with Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Russia, vodka can be--and is--manufactured in almost every country across the globe, including France, Israel and even Carribean nations. There is no standardized method of categorizing vodkas, so the different countries of origin may affect the final product.
In its traditional countries, vodka is judged by its purity. Poland, for example, has three grades of vodka while Russia has two grades. The price of these grades is dependent upon the lack of additives, smoothness and quality of the vodka. In the United States there is only one classification of vodka.
Vodka is a versatile beverage because of its lack of distinct flavor. Vodka's most visible use is in the martini family, which includes cosmopolitans and gimlets. Nevertheless, vodka is used in other mixed drinks, as well, such as Long Island Iced Tea and Bloody Mary. Vodka's flexibility allows for the addition of an alcoholic punch to any beverage, and a majority of mixed cocktails served at bars and restaurants will contain vodka.
The guidelines in the United States stress that vodka should be a "neutral spirit" but connoisseurs of vodka insist that they can detect the slightest difference in vodkas. Others argue that the nature of vodka makes it difficult to discern a truly good vodka from an adequate one and the only real guideline is price.