Potato Vodka: The Elephant in the Room

Potato Vodka: The Elephant in the Room

I’d like to address the elephant in the room: Potato Vodka…

I conduct tastings at many markets and one of the comments I get is “oh, I thought all vodka was made from potatoes”. This couldn't be further from the truth, and made me realise that there is still a lot of confusion around the origins of vodka and the different sources that can be used to make it.

Historically, distillers used whatever sugar sources were locally abundant to produce their vodka. In Eastern Europe, this included potatoes because that's what they had available. The issue with potatoes is that they're not very sugar-rich so a large quantity of potatoes is required to produce a small amount of alcohol. Fortunately, this was not an issue for distillers in Eastern Europe, who had access to ample potatoes.

The "Vodka Belt" countries of Poland, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Sweden continue to insist that vodka can only be made from grain or potatoes. However, sugar and starch sources for vodka production have evolved over the years and now range from simple white sugar to grains such as sorghum, corn, rye, or wheat, and even molasses, soybeans, grapes, rice, and sugar beets.

At the end of the day, the source of the sugar doesn't necessarily determine the quality of the vodka, however it does affect the flavour of the final product. High reflux column stills can produce a fantastic neutral spirit from almost any sugar source provided that the distiller takes care to remove the lighter alcohols and leaves only pure and neutral spirit.

Personally I believe that starting with a grape base gives my vodka a unique and distinctive character, with a hint of sweetness that sets it apart from other vodkas on the market. Happily judges at the 2023 Perth Royal Distilled Spirits Awards agreed awarding my Classic Vodka a gold medal and Champion Vodka in WA. Have you tried it yet?? 🍸

What's your experience with vodka? Do you have a preference for a particular vodka base?