How Water Influences Vodka
Your Drink Is Only As Good As The Water That’s In It
In past articles we’ve talked a lot about the various ingredients that create the breadth of characteristics between vodkas, namely the core ingredients that are fermented to create the alcohol (potato and grain, primarily). But if you’re determined to get truly serious about how you approach vodka, it’s time to consider the role that water plays in your favorite spirit.
For discerning drinkers, the quality of water is most prominent as a consideration in whiskey and bourbon production, where the limestone lined creeks of Kentucky lend a much-needed minerality to the finished product. When it comes to clear spirits, though, water plays an even bigger part, since without the benefit of charred barrels and years of aging, there are few other flavoring elements in clear spirits like vodka aside from the mash and water.
The fact of the matter is that at almost 60% of the total bottled volume, water plays a huge role in the final taste, clarity, and mouthfeel of the finished product. When you consider the addition of water through ice (which plays an enormous role, more on this later), water is just about the most important element after the ingredients that go into the mash.
Increasingly, vodka brands are paying more and more attention to where they source their water, and how this informs the quality and characteristics of the finished product. For example, Finlandia sourced glacial spring water that’s filtered through a sand moraine so effective that they forego all modern filtration systems.
As a consumer, it’s important to do your research. The basic rule of thumb being: if a brand doesn’t make specific mention of a water source, they’re probably using local tap water in their finished product. Still, here are some of the most common water sources/processes used in vodka production:
Spring: This water is formed underground and filters up through various geological formations before coming to the earth’s surface. Types of stone, geographic location, and how close to the source the water is captured all inform the taste and quality.
Glacial: Meltwater some ancient glaciers is captured and filtered. Depending on the depth of the source, the water is free of ‘modern’ pollutants and contaminants, having been frozen thousands of years ago.
Reverse Osmosis: Water is forced through a series of selective membranes using pressure to remove increasingly small levels of particulate matter (down to the ionic level).
Distilled: This water is purified by boiling and collecting the condensed water that evaporates, the bulk of the particulates and impurities are too heavy to be carried up in the steam and are left behind.
Since as a consumer you can’t affect the type of water used in producing vodka (aside from voting with your wallet, as they say), it’s important to pay attention to the ice you use in your home bar.
In almost every instance, we recommend using store-bought ice, especially when serving guests. Made from filtered water, these facilities have the benefit of systems that keep the water slowly moving as it freezes, which produces a clear product with no mineral settling (this is why ice left in trays in your freezer comes out cloudy). Not only does this look better in a cocktail, it melts more consistently and slowly. And unless you have a freezer dedicated to ice, the other foodstuffs in your freezer will subtly scent and flavor your ice, producing an inferior product.
If you live in a climate cold enough, we highly recommend crafting your own ice blocks outdoors. Simply fill a square/rectangular tupperware container with filtered tap water or spring water and place it, covered, outside. Not only does this avoid the problem of odor contamination from the various food items your ice shares the freezer with, the ice will set more quickly, resulting in higher clarity. When it comes time to use it, simply use an ice pick or chisel to carve off a few beautiful chips of crystal clear ice.