The Ultimate Guide To Vodka

By: Sheena Isokariari

vodka drinks

There was a time when vodka was seen as a flavourless spirit, and that all vodkas tasted the same. But thankfully, times have really changed, and we're celebrating it! Today, vodka is as popular as ever, with new brands popping up all over the world and bartenders finding creative and exciting ways to use it for delicious cocktails. With the help of our very own vodka expert, Andy Huntley, we're here to set the record straight about this spirit. Let's get into it…

What is vodka?  

Vodka is a clear, colourless spirit made from the distillation of grains or potatoes. It's known for its high alcohol content, typically 40-50%. Vodka got its name from the Russian word "voda" which means water. It's the most popular spirit in the world and for good reason: it's highly versatile and its neutral flavour makes it the perfect choice for many different cocktails like Martinis and Cosmopolitans, and in mixed drinks and shots too. It is a must-have in every home bar, and for any occasion.

OK, so how is vodka made? 

Vodka production starts with fermenting a mash of ingredients like grains, potatoes, or fruits. This fermented mixture is then distilled multiple times to remove impurities and to achieve a high alcohol content. Some people say that the more times vodka is distilled, the cleaner and smoother it is. After distillation, vodka is filtered. It requires no ageing and is ready to drink right away. The final product is typically filtered to achieve its clear, colourless appearance and smooth taste.

So, if vodka isn't flavourless, what does vodka taste like? 

It's not that vodka is tasteless. The flavour is so subtle that it doesn't have a distinct taste, although some vodka brands have light hints of sweetness, spiciness, creaminess and even fruitiness. Vodka is more known for its different textures, called the mouthfeel. It's sort of like telling the difference between tap water and bottled water if you really pay attention – the more different types of vodka you try, the easier it becomes to pick up on those differences.

The heat of vodka is another difference. Have you ever noticed a burning sensation on your tongue or the back of your throat when you drink vodka straight? This burning feeling is an indication of how smooth the vodka is. The distiller's attention to detail determines the heat level in creating a clean vodka, including the number of distillations and the filtering process. Cheaper vodka brands tend to have a harsher burn, whereas premium brands are usually smoother and more subtle in taste.

vodka flavourless

Why is vodka so popular? 

There are a few reasons. Let's break them down. 

1. First up, vodka is really versatile 

It's sort of a blank canvas for mixologists and cocktail enthusiasts, as it allows them to get creative and experiment to create lots of delicious drinks. Its neutral flavour profile goes well with various ingredients like herbs, fruits, spices, juices, and soda.

2. Mixability

When mixed with other ingredients, vodka enhances the flavours without overpowering them. It's the master of balance, adding just the right amount of ‘oomph’ to any drink without overpowering its flavours.

3. The taste

Many people enjoy the clean and crisp taste of vodka. This purity makes it easy to enjoy for vodka lovers or vodka newbies alike. As it lacks harsh flavours or aromas, it can be enjoyed on its own or as an ingredient in mixed drinks without overpowering the taste buds. You can drink it straight or mix it in cocktails like a Martini or Moscow Mule without it being too intense.

4. Cultural significance

Vodka is a huge deal in places like Russia and Poland. It's been a part of their culture and social gatherings for centuries, so it's a big symbol of their heritage. And it's not just limited to those countries - people all over the world love it too!

And what is the alcohol content of vodka?

Vodka usually contains 40% alcohol by volume, although some brands may vary slightly. In fact, high-quality vodkas can have as much as 95% alcohol by volume, or more.

Is vodka gluten-free?

Vodka is made from grains like wheat and rye and can contain trace amounts of gluten, but distillation typically removes most gluten proteins. If gluten doesn't sit right with you, buying vodka made from potatoes, corn, or other gluten-free ingredients is probably best. It's always a good idea to double-check the label or reach out to the manufacturer to double-check the ingredients, especially if you have an intolerance or allergy. 

So now you have an idea how vodka is different from other spirits, what are the different types of vodka brands? Vodka brands range from premium to budget-friendly; here are a few of our faves:

1.    Smirnoff 

You can't go wrong with this true classic. Smirnoff has been a staple in the vodka game since 1864 and for good reason. It's crisp, has a clean taste, is easy on the bank balance and is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser for any occasion.

smirnoff vodka

2.    CÎROC

If you're looking for something fancy, CÎROC vodka is the one. It's made from fine French grapes and has a smooth and sophisticated flavour. It uses a distillation process that's been perfected by over 100 years of winemaking, making it stand out from other vodkas.

ciroc vodka

3.    Chase

This small-batch vodka is crafted by hand in Herefordshire, England, using locally grown potatoes. Chase Vodka is the perfect choice if you want something unique. Try it neat first, then mix it with a Mediterranean tonic to truly appreciate this vodka.

chase vodka

4.    Ketel One

If you consider yourself a vodka connoisseur, Ketel One is a must-try. This Dutch vodka is crafted from premium wheat and pure water, resulting in a smooth and sophisticated flavour that is sure to please. Enjoy it chilled and straight to fully experience the art of vodka making.

ketel one vodka

Are there flavoured vodkas?

Absolutely! Flavoured vodkas are having a moment. There are lots of flavoured vodkas out there to choose from. Citrus and vanilla are the most popular, but berries, watermelon, pineapple, pomegranate and other types of fruits, are crowd-pleasers too. 

What does it mean to infuse vodka?

Simply put, it's basically adding a single flavour or a combination of flavours to your vodka cocktail using fruits, vegetables, herbs, or spices. It gives you complete control over the alcohol's flavour, and is easy to do at home or a fun thing to do with your crew. You can customise your drinks to match your personal taste and add a unique touch to your drinking experience.

How do you drink vodka?

Vodka can be enjoyed in lots of different ways. Here are a few ways to drink it:


If you want to really savour the genuine flavour of vodka, try drinking it straight up. There's no need to add anything else. Take a sip and enjoy the unique smoothness and complexity of the vodka. Cheers!

neat vodka

On the rocks

If you prefer a slightly chilled and diluted experience, you can pour vodka over a glass filled with ice. The ice will gradually melt, mellowing the intensity of the spirit and providing a refreshing sipping experience.

Mixed cocktails

Vodka can be used to mix up lots of cocktails, such as an Espresso Martini or Dutch Mule, but it's just as tasty with soda or in mixed drinks layered with fruit.

mixed cocktail vodka

Now that you've learned all about the wonderful world of vodka, it's time to get mixing. Here are Andy's favourite vodka cocktails.


The trusty Cosmo - it's a classic cocktail that has been around since 1985. It's made with cranberry juice and orange liqueur, which gives it a refreshing citrus taste.

Andy says: “First mentioned in print in 1927, the Cosmopolitan was a very different recipe to the one we see on cocktail menus today. Over the years, it has been tweaked and developed by some of the biggest names in bartending, but the most popular recipe we see today was perfected in the '90s. It became a household name with the help of 'Sex in The City' which first aired in 1998. It's the epitome of sophistication and glamour. Its vibrant pink hue and zesty citrus flavours make it a timeless classic that exudes confidence and style.”

Vodka Tonic

Ah, another classic cocktail. The Vodka Tonic is an easy, clean sip with light texture and flavour, making it the perfect aperitif or drink to sip on with friends.

Andy says; “The Vodka Tonic never goes out of style. Its crisp and refreshing taste is the perfect balance of smooth vodka and tangy tonic, making it the go-to drink for any occasion. This drink is dry, fresh and at one point was more popular than the G&T in the UK. Such a simple drink to make at home, and with the huge selection of tonics on the market today, it's easy to find something to suit your taste.”

vodka tonic

Bloody Mary

When you're in the mood for something spicy you can’t go wrong with a Bloody Mary. It's basically tomato juice mixed with Worcestershire sauce and other seasonings like horseradish or Tabasco sauce. You can adjust the spiciness to your liking too.

Andy says: “The Bloody Mary is not just a cocktail. It's a work of art. Its complex blend of savoury spices, tangy tomato juice, and fiery hot sauce creates a symphony of flavours that awaken the senses. It can be a simple or complex cocktail but remember to never shake this with ice to avoid overdiluting. Instead, rotate the cocktail shaker slowly in your hands to mix and chill before straining into an ice-filled glass. An absolute brunch staple, the Bloody Mary is a true classic that never fails to impress.”

Espresso Martini

The Espresso Martini is the cocktail that will give you a little kick. It's made with vodka, coffee liqueur and freshly brewed espresso, and it's got the perfect balance of smoothness and strength with a tasty frothy layer to top it off!

Andy says: “A modern classic created by the legendary Dick Bradsell, you will find this drink on cocktail menus worldwide. Its rich and velvety texture, combined with the bold and robust flavours of espresso and vodka, create a decadent and indulgent experience that is sure to satisfy any coffee lover's cravings. You can create a bespoke version of this drink easily by using flavoured syrups instead of a simple sugar syrup. I like to use a hot cup of espresso straight into the cocktail shaker to give it that extra creamy head."

espresso martini

Classic Vodka Martini

Shaken or stirred, this cocktail is the foundation for every other Vodka Martini. It's really easy to whip up at home and the perfect way to show off a fancy vodka. You'll need vodka, vermouth, ice and lemon peel or olive for garnish, and you're good to go.

Andy says: “I've always believed simplicity is best when it comes to cocktails. The vodka martini is the ultimate cocktail for those who appreciate simplicity and elegance. Its clean and crisp taste combines the smoothness of vodka with the subtle hint of vermouth. The martini is a 'Spirit Forward' cocktail, which means the base vodka is the star of the show. CÎROC vodka is a great base for this drink with its citrus flavour notes and velvety mouthfeel. Garnish with a lemon peel twist to further accentuate those citrus notes.”

So, you now know how to serve vodka, what food pairs well with it?

The perfect vodka and food pairings

When it comes to pairing vodka with food, the possibilities are endless. The bold flavours of dishes, like caprese salads or vegetable-based dishes, stand up well against the clean taste of vodka. Or for a seafood pairing, try sipping on vodka with oysters, clams and mussels. The seafood's brininess will complement the smoothness of the vodka. And for a sweet treat, pair vodka with a slice of lemon cake or a bowl of fresh berries.

Is vodka a good gift? 

Always! A bottle of vodka is the best gifting option available out there. Even if the person doesn't drink neat vodka, it can always be used for making delicious cocktails. Plus, it's a safe bet because pretty much every culture drinks it, so you don't have to worry about any awkward situations.

The future of vodka/vodka trends

As the world of cocktails continues to evolve, so do the trends in vodka. At the time of writing this, 6 of the top 10 cocktails in the UK are vodka-based drinks. The Passion Fruit Martini is at the top spot and still one of the most searched-for cocktails online. 

While classic vodka cocktails like the Martini and Bloody Mary will always have a place in the bar scene, we can expect to see more innovative and creative vodka-based drinks in the future. 

vodka trends

One trend gaining popularity is flavoured vodkas, which add a unique twist to traditional cocktails and a great introduction to the spirits category. Another trend is using organic and locally sourced ingredients as consumers become more conscious of their environmental impact. We can also expect to see more emphasis on the quality and craftsmanship of vodka, with small-batch and artisanal brands gaining popularity. Overall, the future of vodka trends is full of possibilities as bartenders continue to push the boundaries and create new and exciting cocktails. 

Let's sum everything up

So, there you have it. Vodka isn’t a flavourless or odourless spirit - it's a clear, colourless and unique spirit which is subtle in flavour and a staple in every home bar and occasion. It's easy to mix up, drink neat or use in cocktails. How to drink vodka is a personal choice. So go ahead and try different brands and cocktails until you find the perfect match for you.

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