Vodka

Vodka has become the most successful spirit in the last few years because it's the most versatile, mixing more readily with a wider range of ingredients than any other spirit. Vodka offers more cocktails, and inspires more new cocktails, than any other spirit, and it is cocktails that drive vodka's popularity.

But the category is still undervalued as it's typically assumed that all vodkas taste the same. This view stems from neutral vodka, the traditional style in the UK, USA and the West. With no aroma or flavour, neutral vodka is essentially a means of adding alcohol to a mixer or cocktail.

Distillers have a different approach in vodka's traditional homelands of Poland, Russia, Sweden and Finland, producing vodka with character derived from the ingredient being distilled. The ingredient is the most influential factor in the flavour of the vodka.

In Sweden and Russia this typically means wheat (as in brands such as Absolut) which gives a characteristic aniseed flavour. A Finnish vodka such as Finlandia is distilled from barley, yielding a subtly sweet, nutty and lusciously spicy character.

Most Polish vodkas (including Sobieski and Belvedere) are distilled from rye, giving rye bread notes with subtle sweetness, though potato vodkas (such as Luksusowa) are also produced, giving buttery, mashed potato flavours. A recent trend is multi-ingredient vodka, such as Ultimat, a Polish brand that blends potato, rye and wheat.

Vodka has also reached a significant phase as the traditional division between Western vodkas being neutral, with Eastern European and Scandinavian vodkas having character, no longer applies. Innovative brands with abundant character are being produced throughout the West, such as Ketel One in the Netherlands, Grey Goose and Citadelle in France, and 42 Below in New Zealand (all distilled from wheat).