Greatest Myths About Vodka, Part 1
Have you noticed most knowledge about vodka available in English actually comes from non-Eastern European authors? This usually means repeating the same stereotypes over and over again. Here at Eat Polska, even though we write in English, we’re all Polish and we keep digging and scratching the surface to get you the closest to the heart of what vodka is. So here’s part one of our quest for busting the greatest myths about vodka.
01. Vodka doesn’t have taste
Well, you betcha it does! Naturally, we’re not talking about infused, flavored or salty caramel popcorn Oddka here. Not to mention Ciroc. Ciroc is not a vodka, mind you. We are only going to focus on clear, no-colour, transparent liquor here. First, there’s a number of ingredients vodka can be made from that will eventually influence its taste: you’ll probably find potato vodkas sweeter than grain ones in general. Moreover, many people (including in Eastern Europe, vodka’s HQ) never bother to put two or more vodkas next to each other and taste them, swirling the liquid inside their mouth, around the tongue and palate. Try it with your favourite vodkas and you are guaranteed to discover notes you never expected in an allegedly neutral and tasteless beverage, from vanilla to liquorice, from floral to peppery. Then, there are also gems like Poland’s Dwór Sieraków with tiny additions of fruit distillates or single distilled vodkas (read more below) that can easily compete with cognac or brandy, flavourwise. So it looks like the joke “I drink vodka for flavour” is never going to be as funny as before again.
02. Vodka is most calorific / Vodka has no calories
Calories in vodka are home to two contradictory myths. Let’s start with one that you should never confess you believe in, if you don’t want to disappoint your primary school science teacher: no calories in vodka. At first thought that could make sense: no sugar, no fat, where the hell would the calories come from? Well, from alcohol! Have you hear of ethanol-fueled engines? Or ever seen a bartender prepare a “flaming cocktail”? Calories are energy, that’s why alcohol burns as hell!
Will drinking vodka make you fat then? Not necessarily, however you may be fooled into believing it will. Let’s have a look at this chart of caloric density in different drinks, coming from a highly recommended Washington Post article on calorie-efficient drinking:
And what do we see? Ahead in the lead – distilled liquor! And the good ol’ beer somewhere by the end of the list of high-calorie monsters (interestingly, with Coke, the sugar-loaded devil even behind it!). Conclusion should be simple: you want to stay fit? Avoid vodka! But – wait for it – it’s not! What the table represents is calories per ounce. An ounce is approx. 30ml and a small shot of vodka in Poland is 20ml (the big one is 40). So let’s assume that an ounce is an average vodka serving which equals to 65 kcal. At the same time beer usually comes in pints. We’re going to be merciful and for the sake of calculations use a smaller, US pint, which is roughly 473ml. How many ounces will there be in a pint? 16! And how many calories? Over 270! So next time you’re going out think twice what is more fun: 3 pints of lager or 12 shots of vodka? It may not be exactly the same when it comes to how you’ll feel but it will take exactly same long jog to burn it off.
03. Expensive vodka is better
First things first: come to Poland and you’ll see that a bottle of your favourite Belvedere is 30-50% cheaper. But is it worth to pay your dollars/euros for those fancier vodkas? Here’s a story.
In the early 1990s Polish vodka manufacturers came up with an idea of ultra-premium vodkas to sell more to the West. This is more or less how the race for vodka pureness started, represented by number of distillations and fancy filtering methods. Meanwhile, the number of distillations is definitely not key to success: take a look at the list of medal winner in International Wine and Spirit Awards and you’ll see vodkas distilled between three and tens of times. In Poland, you’ll find 7-times distilled vodkas priced at less than 5€ for 500ml which are far from top-notch. So does the price really reflect vodka’s quality? When we train guides for our Vodka Tours we put them through a blind test: we serve them a well chilled shot of one of the super-premium vodkas alongside with a shot of popular and affordable Wyborowa. And opinions are always mixed. We actually did the same when we were invited to shooting an episode of Donal Skehan’s culinary travel show in Kraków with similar result. How vodka tastes really lies in the quality of base product used, careful production process and the recipe. In most cases, expensive brands give you really good vodka but so do many less pricey ones so it’s up to you to decide if you’re ok with part of the many you pay going to bad advertising, some cool product placement and celebrities being brand ambassadors.
On the other hand, there are vodkas like Młody Ziemniak or Vestal: once distilled, new potato liquors. Like wine, they’re vintage as each year the combination of weather, soil and most importantly, the potato itself will result in a different, distinct flavour. Single distillation guarantees a much fuller body of the vodka so don’t you dare shooting it! We don’t think you’d do it with cognac or whisky, and that’s how those treasures should be tasted. (Side note: technically speaking, due to a higher content of “impurities”, i.e. anything that can give vodka any flavour, neither Młody Ziemniak nor Vestal cannot be officially called “vodkas” in the EU despite not using anything but potatoes as ingredients. But why it’s wrong is a topic for another blog post:)