“All vodka is the same!” We’ve all heard it before.
As a vodka enthusiast (and maker), I agree with and understand the sentiment.
But why? Why does it all taste the same? Where does it come from? Is vodka just ubiquitous by nature of how it’s made..?
…or, is there something bigger going on?
TLDR: an overwhelming super-majority of domestic vodka is mass-produced, purchased in bulk by a brand, then packaged beautifully as something “locally” crafted.
How did I find out?
I wanted to know how pervasive this was, so I did a study of the Houston market.
To come up with the data, I travelled to (4) Houston Metro liquor stores and read every label in the vodka section. I surveyed over 530 bottles (347 domestic) and 200+ brands of plain, unflavored vodka.
While this study is not up to snuff with big academia, I did take some things into account before going about my research:
Only 2.02% of domestic vodka is verified to be made by the brand on the front of the bottle.
Further, in one store with 159 brands (112 of which were domestic) of vodka on the shelf, Fox & Seeker was the only domestic vodka brand that is verified grain-to-glass.
Disclaimer on Manufacturing
It’s important to define what I mean by “made by the brand on the front,” before I get a bunch of hate mail (please send hate mail to our contact form).
To make vodka, there are 5 steps:
To make a vodka from scratch, you perform all 5 steps. However, I was only able to verify that (4) brands out of 200+ actually make it that way. The rest…well…
The rest really just do steps 4 and 5.
Locally, of course.
A note about “Unverified” brands
There are 18.73% of bottles that claim “distilled by” on the back of the bottle, which legally means the manufacturer listed on the back label performs some level of distillation; however, this may mean they purchase pretty rough, mass-produced neutral spirit and run it “hot and fast” through a potstill, just so they can claim they distilled something.
In the case of these 18.73%, I wasn’t able to find evidence on their company website, social media, branding, or messaging to otherwise indicate they carry out the fermentation (which is where all the flavor comes from!).
While you may think that’s imprecise, here’s what I do know….
If a distillery carries out the fermentation, they brag about it. You see indicators like “grain-to-glass” or “made from scratch” all over their branding.
The 18.73% of brands here showed no indication of this work, but since they do say “distilled by”, I left them in their own bucket to be debated.