Vodka is one of the most popular spirits in the world, and is far and away the best-selling distilled spirit in the United States. But while we might think that all vodka is more or less the same, in reality, there are many different base ingredients from which it can be distilled. You may be surprised to learn which one forms the foundation of your favorite brands.
In order to produce vodka, distilleries start with plant matter that’s rich in either sugar or starch. After boiling the starch or sugar with water to create a mash and adding yeast, fermentation occurs, producing both alcohol and carbon dioxide, the latter of which disappears into the atmosphere. The resulting liquid is distilled and the resulting high-proof alcohol is collected. Dilute that alcohol to bottling strength, and boom: You’ve got vodka.
You’d be surprised to learn what crazy plants are used to make vodka around the world. Many are based on various kinds of grains, but soybeans, sugar beets, sorghum, and even wood pulp are options — as long as the base material contains sugar or starch that can be converted into sugar, it can be made into vodka (in Poland, some companies just combine table sugar and yeast). There have been attempts in the European Union to pass regulations stating that only spirits made from grain or potatoes can be called vodka, but that hasn't yet come to pass — and, anyway, a lot of vodka comes from the United States and other non-European countries these days.
The world’s largest vodka brands, thankfully, tend to stick with less-crazy ingredients and follow traditional methods of production. But that doesn’t make it any more surprising to learn what goes into some of the top-selling vodka brands in America, and some brands still use some pretty far-out ingredients. From wheat to peaches and creamed corn (yes, you read that right), read out to learn which nine base ingredients are distilled to produce more than 35 top vodka brands.
Cîroc, the French vodka popularized in the United States through its association with Sean “Diddy” Combs, is different from the vast majority of other vodkas in that it’s distilled entirely from grapes. Napa Vodka Distiller's Blend, DiVino, Crown Valley, Cooranbong, and Bombora are among the other grape-based vodkas, and Hangar 1 mixes grape and grain. (California's Guild Wineries & Distilleries started this trend back in the late 1970s with a grape-based vodka called Silverado, but the world apparently wasn't ready for it, and it quickly disappeared.)
Potato is a common primary ingredient for vodka production in Poland. Two popular Polish potato-based vodkas are Chopin and Luksusowa. American potato-based vodkas include Boyd & Blair, Cirrus, and Grand Teton.