Vodka is a spirit you'll find in bars, liquor cabinets and perhaps hip-flasks all over the world. It is the main ingredient in numerous cocktails and mixed drinks, and it has become possibly the most-widely consumed alcoholic spirit in the world, with Russia alone drinking a staggering 4 billion liters of the stuff a year!
Vodka can be made from a wide variety of plants; with grains like rye and wheat being the most common sources of the fermentable 'mash' used in Vodka.
However, anything with a high starch and sugar content is suitable for fermenting and distilling, and varieties range from potato, corn, barley, through to pumpkin! These ingredients undergo a multi-layered distillation process that involves vaporizing them at extremely high temperatures in vats or stills. This process helps separate the alcohol from the water and other compounds and results in a highly alcoholic and rather neutral-tasting liquid. In fact, Vodka is often judged on its 'purity and smooth taste' as the distillation process should result in a liquid that has been filtered of all 'impurity' in taste.
Vodka production is big business for many countries in Northern and Eastern Europe, with the term 'Vodka Belt' coined to describe Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus and the Scandinavian countries to name a few. The 'Vodka Belt' is responsible for 70% of the worlds Vodka supply (and probably a healthy percentage of it's consumption too).
EU regulations stipulate that any spirit being sold at vodka meet a minimum requirement of 37.5% ABV, and there is ongoing pressure from the countries of the 'Vodka Belt' for the EU to set down clear guidelines that determine what is and isn't considered vodka.
The modern Vodka market has seen various different types of Vodka emerging, with potato vodka and corn vodka seeing something of a specialist market develop. Flavored vodka has revolutionized the cocktail world with citron vodka, vanilla vodka and raspberry vodka becoming staple ingredients despite the disdain of vodka purists.
The market for super-premium or luxury Vodka has also boomed, although again there is skepticism that in these cases the price reflects the marketing of the product, rather than the quality.