Vodka Aficionado, Tips, Recipes
History and the Manufacturing Process of Vodka
Vodka is an alcoholic drink that has international recognition. It is distilled from fermented grain or vegetable at a high proof. The proof is a unit used to measure the alcohol content in a beverage. It is important to note that every degree of proof is equivalent to 0.5% of alcohol.
Undiluted vodka has a very high proof of about 145, which means that it has over 70% of alcohol. It is a neutral spirit with all the taste and odor having been removed and water is also added so as to bring down the proof to about 80 to 100.
The process of fermenting sugars, grains and fruits to produce alcoholic beverages has been in existence since time immemorial. Fermentation is a chemical process that is catalyzed by mold, bacteria, and yeast in organisms. This process is used in the production of alcoholic drinks whereby the yeast will convert the sugars in the mash to ethyl alcohol.
Distillation is a process that involves heating and condensation to create vapor from substances and form and new substances. Distillation is traced back to the 10th century when it was discovered in the writing of Albukassen, an Arabian alchemist.
There has been a never-ending debate between Poland and Russia as to who were the first to make vodka through distillation. However, most scholars credit this discovery to Russia. There are records that show vodka has been in existence since the 4th century in the northern and eastern parts of Europe. This was among the common alcoholic drinks that were distilled at a very high proof.
Through the ages, vodka was confined to those regions until the early 1930s when it started to be embraced in North America and Western Europe. Smirnoff is one of the main producers of vodka, and they started the distillery in 1818 in the city of Moscow. Having been in business for a century, the company was producing 1 million bottles every day, until the Bolshevik revolution, which saw the family lose control of the business. This saw the rights of the company being sold and there many other people who ventured into the production of vodka, which has remained to date.
Process of Making Vodka
There are several ingredients that are used in the process of making vodka. The raw materials used are:
- Grains or vegetables
- Malt meal
Vegetables or Grains
Due to the fact that vodka is a neutral spirit, it does not have any odor or color and can be derived from any ingredients that can be fermented. In the ancient days, it was mainly made from potatoes, and there are still regions that use potatoes and corns to make vodka. However, most parts of the United States use cereal grains like wheat to distil vodka.
Yeast is very critical in the production of vodka as it will cause the food cells to extract all the oxygen from the sugars and starch and in turn, they produce alcohol. In most cases, a species of yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae is commonly used.
Most grains and vegetable contain starches and do not have sugars. As such malt meal is added to the mash so as to aid in the conversion of the starch into sugars.
Once the distillation process is completed, the alcohol content is usually very high, over 70%. Water is added to decrease the alcohol content to about 40% to 50%.
In the past, vodka was taken as a neutral spirit, but in the 20th century, the flavored vodka drinks became popular. Once the process of distillation is completed, essences of herbs, fruits, grasses, and spices are used to add the flavor in vodka.
The process of manufacturing vodka involves a number of stages, namely:
- Preparation of the mash
- Inoculation and sterilization
- Distillation and modification
- Adding water
Preparation of the Mash
Unlike in the past, modern technologies have been invented and all the grains or vegetables are loaded into automatic mash tub machines. As the tub starts to rotate, the raw materials are broken down, and then grounded malt meal is added so as to facilitate the conversion of the starch to sugar.
Inoculation and Sterilization
This is an essential stage as it will prevent the growth of bacteria. The sterilization is carried out by heating the mash of the boiling point. Lactic-acid bacteria are added to mash so as to facilitate the fermentation by increasing the acidity levels. As soon as the desired acidity level is achieved, the mash is inoculated.
The sterilized mash is now poured into stainless steel vats, and the yeast is added before the vats are sealed. This is left for a period of 2 to 4 days, and the yeast enzymes will convert the sugars in the mash to ethyl alcohol.
Distillation and Modification
The ethyl alcohol produced is in a liquid state and is pumped into large stainless steel columns that have vaporization chambers on top. The alcohol is heated with steam while being cycled up and down to produce vapors, which are condensed. All impurities are removed at this stage.
The vapors are concentrated and record alcohol levels of 95-100%, which is a very high proof of about 190. This is quite toxic, and in order to make the vodka drinkable, water is added so as to lower the proof to about 80, which translates to 40% alcohol content.
Finally, the alcoholic beverages are stored in glass bottles. Glass is non-reactive and will not interfere with the chemical composition of vodka. In most distilleries, the bottling process entails cleaning, filling up, capping and then sealing.
You can appreciate why vodka is a popular drink across the globe considering its great history and detailed distillation process. Quality control is performed at every stage so as to ensure that the beverage is safe for consumption. For the distilleries that produce flavored vodka, they are required to list all the ingredients that are used for flavoring.