Alcoholic drinks like vodka go by many names such as firewater, grog, hooch, sauce, and liquor. Most notably, vodka is referred to as a spirit.
If you’re new to liquor terminology, you might not be familiar with what spirit means. Specifically, you might be wondering if vodka is a spirit. Here’s what I found out about it!
Is Vodka A Spirit?
Spirits are defined as alcoholic drinks that are created from fermented and distilled ingredients like rye, corn, grapes, and potatoes. The fermentation and distillation processes must result in a product that has a high alcohol concentration. Since vodka is made following that exact process and typically has an alcohol by volume (ABV) of 40% or 80 proof, vodka is classified as a spirit.
If you’re eager to find out more about vodka’s classification as a spirit and where the term “spirit” originated, keep on reading!
Why Is Vodka Called A Spirit?
Vodka is called a spirit because the process of making it fits the legal definition of distilled spirits, which are alcoholic drinks created through the distillation of fermented ingredients.
These fermented ingredients could be anything from rye and apple, to beets and potatoes. By distilling these food products, the liquid is concentrated enough to improve the alcohol by volume.
Additionally, the term “spirit” itself has historical, religious, and scientific sources. While all of them are just theories, they provide convincing premises.
The oldest among them all is the theory that dates back to the 4th century B.C. when Aristotle wrote about distillation and referred to its product as a “spirit.”
Due to the intoxicating effect of distilled beer and wine, Aristotle believed that spirits entered his body through these drinks.
In a similar vein, the Bible recorded an instance in the New Testament wherein the Holy Spirit filled the disciples during Pentecost and some bystanders thought they were intoxicated with wine.
In both theories, actual spirits were believed to cause symptoms of drunkenness, hence the term “spirit” is associated with liquor.
For a more scientific explanation, you have to refer to the alchemists of the Middle East. They distilled liquids and collected the “spirit” that came from them to create medical elixirs.
Likewise, Franciscan monk, Ramon Llull took extensive notes on the distillation process and described it as a means to extract the essence or “spirit” of fermented liquid.
Regardless of its actual origin, the term “spirit” is justified by all three theories due to the way distilled spirits intoxicate people and make them behave strangely.
Is Vodka A Neutral Spirit?
In America, a neutral spirit is defined as any distilled spirit that has 95% ABV and is bottled with 40% ABV or higher.
This means that a neutral spirit originally has a minimum of 95% alcohol content, but it’s watered down to reach a minimum of 40% so that it can be bottled and sold.
Additionally, neutral spirits are used to create vodka. Based on this, it’s safe to say that vodka is a neutral spirit.
Moreover, neutral spirits can be made with a wide assortment of agricultural products like grains, potatoes, molasses, and grapes.
After distillation, they should have a neutral flavor profile and be typically odorless and colorless. This fits vodka’s definition to the tee.
Is Vodka A Spirit Or Liqueur?
Vodka is a spirit, and while it can be liquor, vodka can’t be a liqueur. To understand this better, you have to know the similarities and differences between these three terms.
First, it’s important to establish that liquor and liqueur are not variants of the same word, and they are spelled differently because they have distinct definitions.
Liquors are produced from fermented vegetables, grain, or fruits, and are typically sweeter than spirits. They are often infused with juices and fruity flavors to complement their base.
Moreover, spirits are liquors that are produced specifically through distillation and must have no added sugar. They also need to have a minimum ABV of 20%.
Due to repeated distillation, however, spirits usually have an average ABV of 37% to 43% and are significantly more subtle in flavor compared to liquors.
Given these definitions, vodka is a liquor, specifically a spirit.
In contrast, a liqueur is a distilled spirit that has added oils, sugars, and extracts that make it sweet, therefore lowering its average ABV to 15% or 30 proof.
That said, liqueurs can also have an ABV as high as 55% ABV or 110 proof. This makes alcohol content a secondary factor in differentiating liqueur from spirits and liquors.
If you want to learn more about vodka, you can see our related posts on whether vodka is gin, whether vodka is whiskey, and what the pH level of vodka is.
Vodka is classified as a spirit thanks to its neutral taste and high alcohol content, which is a result of the repeated distillation of fermented agricultural products.
Furthermore, vodka is considered a neutral spirit because its base is a neutral spirit with an ABV of 95% before it’s diluted with water and bottled.
Finally, vodka can be classified as a liquor, but not as a liqueur, because its flavored variety normally doesn’t have the sugar content and low ABV requirement of a typical liqueur.