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Vodka

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Vodka (Russian: ) is a distilled liquor. The name "vodka" is a diminutive form of the Russian word voda (water), interpreted as little water.

Vodka is composed solely of water and ethyl alcohol with possible traces of impurities and flavorings. Vodka is made from a fermented substance of either grain, rye, wheat, potatoes, or sugar beet molasses.

Left: A Russian-style serving suggestion for vodka.

Vodkas alcoholic content usually ranges between 35 to 50 per cent by volume; the standard Russian, Lithuanian, and Polish vodkas are 40 per cent alcohol by volume (80 proof).

Historically, this alcoholic-proof standard derives from the Russian vodka quality standards established by Tsar Alexander III in 1894. The Muscovite Vodka Museum reports that chemist Dmitri Mendeleev determined the ideal alcohol content as 38 per cent; however because in that time distilled spirits were taxed per their alcoholic strength, that percentage was rounded upwards to 40 per cent for simplified taxation calculations.

Although vodka is traditionally drunk neat in the vodka belt Eastern Europe and the Nordic countries its popularity, elsewhere, derives from its neutral spirit usefulness in cocktails and mixed drinks, such as the bloody Mary, the screwdriver, the White Russian, the vodka tonic, and the vodka martini.

Vodka may be distilled from any starch/sugar-rich plant matter; most vodka today is produced from grains such as sorghum, corn, rye or wheat. Among grain vodkas, rye and wheat vodkas are generally considered superior. Some vodka is made from potatoes, molasses, soybeans, grapes, sugar beets and sometimes even byproducts of oil refining or wood pulp processing. In some Central European countries like Poland some vodka is produced by just fermenting a solution of crystal sugar and yeast.

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While most vodkas are unflavoured, many flavoured vodkas have been produced in traditional vodka-drinking areas, often as home-made recipes to improve vodka's taste or for medicinal purposes. Flavourings include red pepper, ginger, fruit flavours, vanilla, chocolate (without sweetener), and cinnamon.

Left: Flavoured varieties of vodka.

In Russia and Ukraine, vodka flavoured with honey and pepper (Pertsovka, in Russian) is also very popular. Ukrainians produce a commercial vodka that includes St John's Wort. Poles and Belarusians add the leaves of the local bison grass to produce Żubrówka (Polish) and Zubrovka (Belarusian) vodka, with slightly sweet flavour and light amber colour. In Poland, a famous vodka containing honey is called Krupnik. This tradition of flavouring is also prevalent in the Nordic countries, where vodka seasoned with herbs, fruits and spices is the appropriate strong drink for midsummer seasonal festivities.

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