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The "science" of super premium vodka

There has been a video by THE EDUCATED BARFLY

And while my rebellious years seem to be gone, I could not pass on and not comment on this video - and even worse, I could not not write an article about it here...

So first the video:

Let me be frank, I am on one hand absolutely frustrated about the things, YouTube-Influencer-Bartender say... but then, I cannot really complain, because I am not (because of various reasons) try to do it better.

So in this case - thanks of bringing us any content about drinks and bars (and the educated barfly isn't half-bad).

But - this video, pulled out basically all misconception about vodka, alcohol etc. which I could imagine.

Let me first of all start with this: consumer prices today are often not even close related to the actual value. Some prices are (sometimes basic groceries). Some aren't. One product which stands out, of being based on a fantasy (speak solely marketing) value is: TaTaTaaaaa... VODKA.

That's true. Let us look at the production of alcohol: what can influence a price on a distillate?

  • The ingredient
    • Ingredients like grapes are more expensive as grain - but there is a point to make - hold that thought....!
      • There have been some case studies about distilling at home. In fact, even if you are using possibly (for vodka) the most expensive base ingredient (dextrose) and some retail specialist ingredients (like activated carbon clarifiers) - and you are buying it not in bulk, but the most expensive way (retail), the finished product will be far below $5 for a gallon (produced in a tiny still). If you scale up, the costs would also diminish - and if you are using e.g. grain instead of dextrose, the costs are even lower!
  • Taxes / shipment
    • Alcohol taxes is for all products basically the same - well - import taxes and shipment will have definitely an influence of the product - but for a mass product as vodka it is negligible - it will be a couple of dollars more or less, at most...
  • Aging
    • Yes - if it comes to aged spirits, aging is expensive. There are barrels, which have to be purchased and maintained, there is the angel_share, which "evaporates" profits and last but not least, good old capitalism (capital which lies, without working isn't "profitable"). 
    • But vodka isn't aged....
  • Payroll
    • This can be quite high. A product which is handmade (even in larger numbers) could be quite have a high payroll... especially products which are made in put stills (not finished in pot stills) demand a lot of maintenance and a lot of manual work (pot stills still have to be cleaned by hand).
    • But: it is a game of numbers - even single malt whiskies are not that expensive to produce, if one consider how many bottles are produced (a distillery rarely have more than 20 workers). 
    • Even more important in our case: vodka is usually not distilled in pot stills but in Patent Stills, which are basically maintenance free and nowadays even are controlled by computers.
    • One more argument: a lot of brands are buying more "raw" vodkas and just refining them. That means a minimum of "production-payroll".
The whole talk about, that a vodka has to be oh-so-clean... is picked totally out of thin air. A vodka is expensive, because the producer wants to make a statement. A $400 dollar bottle of vodka can be easily sold at less than $50 ( probably even less than $30 - depending on the bottle).

But that was not the only fallacy (which made the whole video basically pointless).

Another thing which they completely got wrong is taste versus aroma.

Taste: the sensation, which can be picked up by your palate / especially your tongue. There are only: salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami, which can be picked up by our tastebuds.

Aroma: Aroma is picked up by our nose (even through our mouth). 

Hence our culinary experiences are based on both of these senses, which are basically interwoven (you could not distinguish a raw apple from a raw onion by taste alone - you need definitely your nose (and sight would be also helpful..).

If you come back to vodka, one point, which they didn't mentioned was rounding, which can have a massive effect on the final product. Rounding is adding additives to the distillate, to make it more palatable and smoothen it out. There are a lot of ingredients allowed - sucrose (sugar), HFCS,  glycerol, citric acid being the best known. It is easy to understand, why one vodka might taste sweet and oily (glycerol) or the other limey (acidic from citric acid), when the producer used this rounding agents.

There were far more fallacies. The whole babble was based on pseudo-science which definitely doesn't exist. It is said, because I heard those false information / perceptions over and over again... and they seem to spread. The real question is, why is not calling brands out for spreading insane marketing stories (on the other hand using additives which makes a distillate less "honest").

To say it short and honest: I could not do it alone - because while I read a lot and know about the industry maybe like very few others, I cannot test products (...just striving with one eye to Darcy...☺️). But personally I think, the given video is just pointless. It just spreads the nonsense further. 

I would love to read your comments about it!


  1. very well put article, all premium vodkas are overrated


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