Recently consumers have become more conscious of what they eat and drink, everyone wants to be healthy, and all of sudden, everyone is off gluten and dairy. This has influenced the marketing material of all things booze, especially when it comes to the labels. One claims to use only the purest Icelandic water, another is a hundred times distilled and twenty times filtered, and some are pointing out that they are gluten-free! But what is the truth behind these marketing gimmicks – is vodka really gluten-free and does the number of filtrations actually make any difference?
Let’s start with the gluten. Vodka is gluten-free even when it is made from wheat, barley or rye. The distillation strips away the harmful gluten proteins, causing it to become free from gluten. Therefore all spirits are suitable for hipsters and people suffering from coeliac disease. But because gluten-based ingredients have been used in making these vodkas, they are not allowed to be labelled as gluten-free, even if there is no gluten protein left in them.
In 2016 Stolichnaya released an alternative buckwheat- and corn-based vodka so they could add gluten-free to the label and this way differentiate themselves from the rest of the brands. They were the first vodka brand to become certified gluten-fee.
If you are still in doubt, there are vodkas made from grapes (Ciroc), potatoes (Arbikie) and even 100% pure cow’s milk! Black Cow Vodka is suitable for those who are dairy and lactose intolerant as the whey is fermented into a beer using yeast that converts the milk sugar into alcohol. The milk beer is distilled and treated with a specific blending process. The outcome is smooth and slightly creamy.
How about the filtration? It is up to the distiller to decide on the filtration of the spirit. The point of filtration is to remove unwanted impurities and this way produce a pure and clean spirit. It can also ensure a longer shelf life. (Who needs a long storage life? In my house, vodka doesn’t stay in the bottle for too long!?). But distillation will already do most of this, therefore filtration after distillation is not necessary.
So, when a brand says their vodka is three times distilled and twice filtered it doesn’t mean the product is any better than a vodka which is only three times distilled but not filtered. In fact, if the spirit is treated too many times it will take a lot of the real character away and the final spirit may be bland and flavourless. Which brings me to another point… sometimes several distillations and filtrations can be used to disguise low-quality base ingredients by stripping out all the bad flavours!
All ingredients react differently to the process. Rye, for example, has a strong flavour, and to get the optimum, subtler, flavour it needs to be distilled several times. Reyka vodka, on the other hand, is only distilled once and it is not filtered afterwards, yet it tastes amazing! The water used to make Reyka comes from a spring which runs through lava rocks. The lava rocks work as a natural filtration system, therefore no more than one distillation is needed to guarantee the best flavour. I definitely recommend you try Reyka! Another vodka has a similar process – Grey Goose use water which runs through limestone and the spirit is also distilled only once. These are both great proofs that extra filtration doesn’t mean quality.
Overall, it is up to you, the consumer, to find the products you like, and you can choose whether you believe everything you read on the label! Go and experiment with different brands and taste the difference! If you want to learn more about the process of making vodka, see the Technical Stuff section on the blog.
Do you have a favourite vodka? Does the number of distillations and filtrations influence your choice when picking up a vodka brand?