Not All Vodkas Are Created Equal

Is the colorless, tasteless spirit really tasteless? According to a recent study, well…yes and no. While marketers work really hard to create brand image for vodkas, more and more of them are fine-tuning their messaging around ingredients and distillation leading to particular flavor nuances. Finally, there’s scientific grounds for people having a preference for certain vodkas and not others: They likely are tasting the vodka’s structure.

Here’s the background: In 1865, Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev found the 60 percent water/40 percent ethanol makeup of vodkas creates clusters of molecules, called hydrates. Additionally, Nobel-Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling discovered the “hydrate clusters might consist of an ethanol molecule sequestered by a hydrogen-bonded framework of water molecules,” reports

Confused yet?

In the new study, which appeared in the American Chemical Society Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researcher Dale Schaefer and his colleagues from the University of Cincinnati and Moscow State University in Russia found that each of the five popular vodka brands studied differed in concentration of ethanol hydrates. So when vodka drinkers — of whom there are a very large number, as any bar owner can attest — say they prefer the “taste” of one vodka over another, it really means they prefer a particular structure over another.

The researchers explained their findings in the study:
“We began this discussion with the statement that vodka is a colorless, tasteless water-ethanol solution. So how do vodka drinkers develop brand preference? Our answer is structure. Beverages with low structurability are likely to be perceived as watery, because the fraction of water clusters is higher than in brands with high structurability. Beverages with high structurability, on the other hand, harbor transient cage-like entities where the ethanol molecule is sequestered by surrounding water molecules. At high alcohol content, clusters of alcohol molecules appear. . . These ethanol clusters undoubtedly stimulate the palate differently from either water or the E.5.3H2O cage structure. Even in the absence of ‘taste’ in the traditional sense, vodka drinkers could express preference for a particular structure.”

It’s a lot to take in, and I’m not quite sure I’ve wrapped my brain around it yet, either, but I do know people love their vodka, and most have particular brands they adore. In fact, people love the clear spirit so much that we dedicated our cover of the June issue to it, discussing everything from new brands to hot flavors, bartender education to vodka/food pairings. Check out the article here.

Another thing I’m certain of: Vodka can makes for some delectable cocktails. Check out some of our featured recipes here.

Love vodka? Hate it? Tell me why — unless it’s some deep scientific explanation because, to be honest, I might not get it.


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