Sugar
By Sean Anger

By Sean Anger

Is Vodka Free of Sugar?

"Because distilled spirits are not regulated by the FDA, ingredients do not need to be disclosed on the label."

Background 

There is a lot of information flying around that vodka is naturally free of sugar. Because it’s the internet, there’s a grain of truth to this, but it’s not the complete story. Many big brands and publications would love for you to believe “all vodka is free of sugar“, but the claim is simply not true. 

What they don’t want you to know 

Per Federal Law, Vodka may be treated with “up to 2.0 grams per liter of sugar or citric acid” post-distillation. Because distilled spirits (ie, liquor) are not regulated by the FDA, ingredients do not need to be disclosed on the label. 

Source: CFR 27.1.A.5.142.b – ie, Federal Law. 

The Grain of Truth 

The distillation process for vodka removes any and all nutritional characteristics – other than that of ethanol (ethanol = vodka). What’s not always apparent is distilleries can add ingredients post-distillation without disclosing any of it to you. 

Common additives in vodka, post-distillation: 

  • Sugar – (sweetener) 
  • Glycerine – (sweetener + mouthfeel) 
  • Honey – (sweetener + mouthfeel) 
  • Citric acid – (citrus character)

Why is this done? 

Marketing

Like most things in this industry (like the myth that “number of times distilled” matters), vodka is a competitive market where every brand wants to differentiate at the lowest cost. The least expensive way to “make” vodka is to source it already-made from a mass-production refinery, ship it to the distillery, then proof, blend, and bottle it.  

With high ABV fermentations and ‘economical’ feedstock (like corn syrup), the resulting liquor from these refineries is cost-friendly, but fairly harsh.  

Upon receiving mass-produced vodka, most distilleries will run their vodka through a charcoal filter to remove the impurities.  What remains is a very sterile vodka that smells and tastes like nothing distinct – just sharp and medicinal. Distillers will add the above-listed sugars in varying forms to provide something different. Have you seen these tag lines? 

  • “Distinct citrus notes due to our proprietary process”. 
  • “We make our vodka with local honey to provide character you won’t find anywhere else” 
  • “We use local rainwater to proof down our vodka, providing a more natural flavor with a creamier texture” 

All of these claims can be true with the same base vodka made in a mass production facility. 

What about flavored vodka? 

If your goal is to reduce sugar, you should steer clear of flavored vodka, or at least perform a good bit of due diligence on the brands you select. 

While sugar is not a requirement in flavored vodkas, it is used frequently to make flavored vodka more approachable. There is no legal limit to how much sugar can be added, so long as the bottled proof does not drop below 60 (ie, 30% ABV). 

How do I know the difference between Vodka and Flavored Vodka? 

Quite simply, it will be on the label. Any label that has the words “flavored vodka” next to each other on the label falls in that category. It is against the law to call it anything else. In most cases, flavored vodkas will also be less than 40% alcohol by volume (ie, less than 80 proof). 

For example: 

  • “Strawberry flavored vodka” is a flavored vodka 
  • “Vodka with natural flavor” is not a flavored vodka 

 

Great ingredients, great flavor 

Wheat in sun
Wheat in Sun

When you start with high quality ingredients and incorporate them into a strict process with controls on nutrition, yeast selection, fermentation temps, distillation parameters, and water quality, a distillery can make a remarkable vodka that doesn’t require post-distillation processing. No post-distillation processing means you can be confident there is no sugar in the vodka and that all flavor you experience is naturally from the raw materials – not added in afterwards. 

The tradeoff? It’s more time, work and money for something that will compete against the massive marketing machine that is “Big Vodka”.  

How do we make our vodka?  Great question.  

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