How it’s made: Vodka edition

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What is vodka made from? A better question might be, what isn’t it made from? Vodka was traditionally distilled from fermented cereal grains like wheat, sorghum, or rye, then diluted with pure water. It has also been made from other cereals, vegetables, and fruit such as corn, potatoes, and apples. Anything that can be converted to sugar from carbohydrates can be made into vodka.

In the past, most distillers aimed to create a flavorless liquid with a smooth mouthfeel, but in the wake of the rising popularity of other white spirits like gin and tequila, many makers are allowing the flavor of the base to poke through or are adding botanicals during fermentation or distilling to create more complex aromas than you might expect from a neutral spirit.

Vodka Market Trends

Vodka is the top selling spirit in the U.S., both in revenue and in volume, according to a 2023 economic report by DISCUS. The trend towards premiumization of spirits has led to differentiation. DISCUS also reports that the super premium category of vodkas is fastest growing, with flavored vodkas accounting for around 22% of all vodkas sold. Even RTD seltzer champion White Claw has entered the vodka game, with a collection of their most popular seltzer flavors in spirit form.

9 Noteworthy Ingredients for Vodka

The following selection of vodkas made from all manner of bases does not include examples from the insanely popular flavored vodka category. Instead, we are highlighting vodkas with unique and exciting origins that add subtle complexity to vodka sipped neat or in classic and contemporary cocktails. Here are 9 ingredients that are used to make vodka, and a recommended bottle from each.

Sugar Cane

Chris Frederick and Damola Timeyin founded Spearhead Spirits in 2021 to promote and celebrate Africa’s native culture and natural resources. Made in KwaZulu Natal, SouthAfrica with African sugar cane, their Vusa Vodka drinks smooth with a bare hint of sweetness.


Remember quinoa, the OG superfood? QURI Vodka proudly celebrates the ancient grain of the Peruvian Andes mountains in their delicately nutty, silken spirit. Quri gives a percent of profits to Peruvian Hearts, a charity that helps Andean women that grow up alongside the grain.


Spring water from the Austrian Alps and non-GMO ancient ryes lend purity and spice to Neft Vodka, an aromatic, yet clean spirit. Distiller Erik Chapman starts the distilling process in copper pots, then “bottles” the liquid in eye-catching (and recyclable) tin and aluminum barrels that reflect the oil drums from founder Ekaterina Kuzmina’s family roots in Siberian oil. Neft was a 2020 silver winner in the 2020 New York International Spirits Competition.


Crisp and mildly fruity, Ciroc Vodka originated in Southwest France in 2001 at Maison Villevert, a renowned spirits house with roots in the Cognac industry.  Their grape based vodka took off and remains one of the top performers of the ultra premium sector.


Kastra Elion starts with hand-picked olives from the Nafpaktos region of Greece that are mixed with grains and fermented, distilled, then combined with spring water for a buttery, pleasantly briny result.  Keep the bottle in the freezer to enjoy frosty and neat.


J. T. Meleck Louisiana Rice Vodka comes from fifth generation rice farmers in Louisiana who decided to make a grain-to-glass vodka in 2018. Its cereal-y, earthily complex character reminds us of white whiskey, making it perfect for the brown spirits lover who wants to dabble on the lighter side.


Harridan Vodka founder Bridgette Taylor makes this overproof spirit with local, NY State organic corn, and bottles it in hand blown glass from Mexico. While corn liquor can taste cloying, Taylor’s has a rich corn flavor more reminiscent of toasted masa. Pair it with citrus to make it shine–in a vodka soda with a lime wedge or a fresh take on a Vodka Collins.


Distilled from actual new potatoes (not flakes or starch), Polish import Vestal Vodka brings the terroir of Poland’s beloved potato to this award-winning bottle. Make this your martini vodka–or try it in a Vodka Gibson with a pickled cocktail onion for a perfect produce match.


New Zealand import Broken Shed Vodka combines pure waters from the North and South Islands with a whey distillate. The clean, sweet, lactic flavor of this natural by-product of the country’s renowned cheese and dairy industry really shows up in the smooth spirit. Terrific on the rocks, or try it in a White Russian, the dude abides.

This article originally appeared on Alcohol Professor and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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