What is Vodka?

Derived from the Russian word for water—"voda"—this distilled spirit can camouflage itself in most cocktails seamlessly. It’s the liquor new drinkers typically start off with for this reason, as they can easily mask its neutral taste in most mixers.  Needless to say, it can sneak up on you quite easily. But without this dangerous little spirit, you couldn’t have some of the most iconic cocktails like the Bloody Mary, Cosmopolitan and Moscow Mule. But what exactly is vodka? We’re here to fill you in on some basics.


-A distilled beverage made of primarily water and ethanol.

-It’s a neutral spirit without any distinguishing taste, aroma or color. 

-It can be made using any ingredient that contains fermentable sugars—with the most common being grains like sorghum, rye, and barley.

A Brief History:

Vodka was documented in the early 14th century in Russia when the Genoese presented the aqua vitae—water of life—to the Grand Duke Dmitry Donskoy in Moscow.

In its early days, the spirit was used for mostly medicinal purposes. In his 1534 study on herbs, Stefan Falimierz claimed that vodka could serve to “increase fertility and awaken lust.”

However, it wasn’t until the mid-18th century that vodka got its strong ABV and proper distillation processes were really implemented.

Vodka gained popularity much later in the US, as pre-Prohibition Americans largely favored whiskey, gin, and brandy.

It wasn’t until Smirnoff opened a distillery and launched a widespread ad campaign in 1934 that it gained popularity.

Vodka Vs. Gin:


So what exactly is the difference between these two similar clear spirits?

-They’re both grain-based and are made almost identically aside from one important feature: in the distillation process of gin, herbs are added.

-This gives gin notable flavors while vodka—good vodka at least—is smooth and neutral on the pallet.


Of course, vodka does have some variations—especially now with more and more flavored vodkas entering the marketplace. We’ll review those further in upcoming posts and fill you guys in even more. But for now, we hope we cleared up some of the fundamentals of this stealthy spirit!

Cheers from,

Happy Hour City