Europeans have been drinking vodka for centuries and appreciate vodka straight up in a small shot glass without ice. Until recently, not many Americans recognized that they could enjoy the complexities of vodka in the same way they consume Scotch whisky, says Couteaux,
Vodkas can be distilled from a variety of ingredients, however the high quality vodkas are usually distilled from a single ingredient such as wheat, rye or potatoes.
Wheat vodkas are often softer and smoother, rye vodkas are more robust and lightly spicy, while potato vodkas tend to have a creamy texture.
The highest quality vodkas are also distilled and filtered multiple times to remove many of the unwanted impurities and hangover-causing congeners. These processes increase smoothness and crispness. In general, the more times a vodka is distilled and filtered, the greater degree of purity it will achieve. (About quality)
Simple and fun way to set up your own vodka tasting Step 1) Select a variety of 3 or 4 high quality vodkas. Chill them in the freezer to have them more viscous and possess cleaner tastes.
Step 2) Once the vodkas are chilled, pour a shot glass size serving, about 1 - 2 oz. each.
Step 3) Lift the first shot glass and hold about an inch from your nose and gently take in the aroma. This is called "the nose" and contains many of a vodka's defining characteristics, such as fruit, grain or spice. The aroma of a high quality vodka will be soft and have various subtleties.
Step 4) Pour the shot into your mouth, and swirl it around to feel the texture. Quality vodka will be smooth and should not burn.
Step 5) Swallow it to completely take ini the flavor experience. A high quality vodka will possess certain characteristics that are distinct to its distillery such as hints of flavors and materials used in the distillation and filtering process.
Take your time and get to know each vodka during this process. Each sample should take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes to take in the full aroma, texture and flavor profile.
Once you are finished with a sample, no need to cleanse your palate before moving onto the next one unless you want to. High quality vodkas are very clean and won't have a lingering after taste like Scotch or bourbon.
In addition to the single ingredient vodkas, there are also flavored vodkas and infused vodkas.
Flavored vodkas add ingredients during the distillation process to give them especially unique flavor profiles. While most people are aware of the fruity flavors such as raspberry and orange, there are other unique flavors such as rose and black pepper. (Flavored vodka cocktails)
Infused vodkas are created by immersing ingredients, such as fruits (pineapple, pears, berries etc.), cinnamon sticks, peppers or horseradish into a large jar or a bottle filled with vodka. (How to infuse)
(Pat Couteux is a master distiller for Infinite Spirits, the maker of Shakers Wheat, Rye and Rose vodkas. He holds a master's degree in Fermentation Science from the Technical University of Munich, Germany.)