One cannot mention vodka and not think of Russia. After all, vodka is Russia’s national drink and the Russians are notorious for their heavy vodka consumption.
With how much the Russians love vodka, it might make you wonder if there’s something different about Russian vodka. Just what is it made from? Here’s what I found!
What Is Russian Vodka Made From?
Russian Vodka is more commonly made from grain than any other base ingredient due to its availability throughout the country. Some of the most popular grains used to make Russian vodkas include wheat, sorghum, corn, and rye. Contrary to what most people believe, Russian vodka was not originally made from potatoes and there are no potato-based Russian vodkas today.
If you want to learn more about the origin of Russian vodka, what makes Russian vodka different, and which popular brands are made in Russia, keep on reading!
What Is Original Russian Vodka Made From?
Contrary to popular belief, Russian vodka was not originally made from potatoes. In fact, potatoes didn’t reach Russia until the 1840s.
When a Russian Monk named Isidore created vodka in the Chudov Monastery in Moscow in the 1500s, he used grain, possibly wheat, rye, or barley.
Since the distillation process wasn’t as thorough back then as it is today, the base ingredient gave the vodka a more distinct flavor, hence people originally called vodka “bread wine.”
Upon the advent of potatoes in Russia, people discovered that it was more economical to use potatoes as a base ingredient rather than the traditional wheat and rye.
For a time, potatoes were indeed used to make vodka. Nonetheless, Russian vodka was originally made from grain, not from potatoes.
What Makes Russian Vodka Different?
Russian vodka is widely regarded as different from vodkas that originate from other parts of the world but these differences are usually subjective.
However, there’s reason to believe that the primary difference between Russian vodka and other vodkas has something to do with Russian ingredients and how Russians drink vodka.
Russian vodka is made primarily from grains, with rye, corn, wheat, and sorghum being the most favored base ingredients.
Generally, wheat and rye vodkas are considered the superior base ingredient compared to alternatives like potatoes, grapes, and other foodstuffs that contain sugar or starch.
Additionally, Russian vodka is made for drinking straight, not for mixing. In comparison, the majority of non-Russian vodkas are designed to be the base spirit for cocktails.
For this reason, non-Russians may consider Russian vodka as harsh and unrefined, while Russians may perceive foreign vodkas as tasteless and unremarkable.
Why Is Russian Vodka So Good?
Some people consider Russian vodka superior to other vodkas because it is designed to be consumed straight and taken with a wide variety of food.
Moreover, Russian vodka is more commonly enjoyed with other people as a means to reinforce camaraderie or establish new friendships, especially with foreigners.
Some of the typical Russian dishes served with vodka are herring with boiled potatoes, pickled mushrooms, and a wide variety of cured fat.
Given vodka’s neutral flavor and strong alcohol content, it’s the perfect drink for most Russian dishes, especially in cold weather.
What Percent Alcohol Is Russian Vodka?
Standard Russian vodka has 40% alcohol by volume (ABV) or 80 proof.
In 1894, chemist Dmitri Mendeleev proposed that the ideal ABV for vodka is 38%, and Tsar Alexander III established this as the vodka quality standard.
To simplify alcohol taxation, 38% was rounded up to 40% not just in Russia, but within the Vodka Belt which consists of Nordic Countries and Eastern Europe.
Is Smirnoff Russian Vodka?
Smirnoff Vodka is originally a Russian vodka. It was founded by Russian serf, Pyotir Smirnov, and enjoyed massive success until the revolution forced him to flee to France.
In the decades that followed, Smirnoff Vodka was passed on from one company to another until it was sold to American businessman John Martin for $14,000.
Smirnoff Vodka only became popular in America after it was advertised as a “white whiskey.” From then onwards, Smirnoff blew up and it is now owned by British company Diageo.
Today, Smirnoff is produced in Russia, America, and other parts of the world. Nonetheless, Smirnoff will always find its roots in Russia.
Is Grey Goose Russian Vodka?
Grey Goose is a French vodka, not a Russian vodka.
Some time in the 1990s, American businessman Sidney Frank hired cellar master Francois Thibault to create a vodka recipe that would turn out to be Grey Goose.
Currently, Grey Goose is sourced, distilled, and bottled in France. None of its ingredients and manufacturing process is associated with Russia whatsoever.
What Russian Vodka Is Made From Potatoes?
While Russia and other countries like Poland may have used potatoes to create vodka in the 1800s, nearly no Russian vodka distiller today makes vodka out of potatoes.
There might be bottom-shelf vodka distillers in some parts of Russia that still use potatoes but these vodkas tend to be limited to certain regions and are not widely known.
Additionally, most Russian distillers prefer to use grain because it’s easier to mass-produce and harvest.
Is All Russian Vodka Made From Potatoes?
There are extremely few Russian vodkas made from potatoes if the possibility of unknown small-scale distillers in some Russian regions are to be considered.
Otherwise, no middle and top-shelf Russian vodkas today use potatoes as their base ingredients. Nearly all Russian vodkas are now made from grain.
What Grain Is Russian Vodka Made From?
Most Russian vodkas are made from grains like wheat, rye, and corn. Russian brands like Moskovskaya and Stolichnaya are examples of popular Russian brands that use grains.
If you want to learn more about vodka, you can see our related posts on what Absolut Vodka is made from, what Ketel One Vodka is made from, and what Belvedere Vodka is made from.
It is a popular misconception that Russian vodka is mostly made from potatoes. While Russia may have used potatoes to make vodka at one point in time, this isn’t true today.
In fact, no popular Russian vodka brand is made from potatoes and if there are any in production within Russian territory, they aren’t widely recognized.
Moreover, Russian vodka was originally made from grain, not potatoes. Isidore, a 15th-century monk, used wheat and rye to create vodka, which is why people used to call vodka “bread wine.”