PRODUCTION METHODS FOR WHISKY VS VODKA
Both vodka and whisky are produced via a method called distillation, but the ingredients used and the steps in the production process differ quite considerably which is why the resulting spirits have such unique characteristics.
When it comes to how whisky is made, the primary ingredient is fermented grain mash. Common grains used include barley, corn, rye, and wheat. The choice of grains significantly influences the flavour and style of the whisky. Single malt whisky is made exclusively from malted barley, while blended whisky can include a mix of grains.
Vodka can be made from any starch. This can come from grains including corn, rye, and wheat, or other ingredients such as potatoes, molasses, rice or even soybeans. Vodka is known for its neutral flavour, and the choice of the raw ingredients has less impact on the final taste compared to whisky.
The fermentation process for whisky involves allowing the mashed grains to ferment, converting sugars into alcohol. This process can take several days and contributes to the development of unique flavours and characteristics in the final product.
In comparison, the fermentation process for vodka aims for high alcohol content and a clean, neutral flavour. Fermentation times in the vodka production process are typically shorter compared to whisky, and the focus is on achieving a high level of alcohol content.
Whisky is usually distilled in pot stills or column stills and the shape of the still affects the character of whisky. The distillation process is designed to concentrate the alcohol and separate it from impurities while retaining some of the flavourful compounds that contribute to the whisky’s character.
Vodka is distilled to a much higher proof to achieve a neutral spirit. Distillation of vodka is usually done using a column still, but some distilleries do use copper pot stills. After heating the still, the liquid vaporises, and the droplets are collected. This liquid becomes the vodka we drink after being diluted with water and bottled. Vodka can be distilled multiple times and the more times it is distilled, the smoother the finished spirit will be. Vodka can be distilled anywhere from twice to ten times or more.
Maturation in wooden barrels is a hallmark of whisky production. The ageing process allows the whisky to interact with the wood, gaining colour, flavour, and complexity. The duration and type of barrels used significantly impact the final product. For whisky to be classed as a scotch, it not only has to be produced in Scotland but legally, must be aged for a minimum of three years. Of course, many whiskies are aged for far longer than this, remaining in casks for decades.
In contrast, vodka is not typically aged. Some premium vodkas may undergo a short ageing process, but the focus is on maintaining a clean and neutral profile.
Filtration is a critical step in vodka production to remove impurities and achieve a smooth and clear spirit. Common filtration methods include charcoal or activated carbon.
Not all whisky is filtered but some varieties do go through a process called chill filtration. It isn’t a necessary process but is done to prevent the whisky from hazing, which is when adding water to whisky or serving it on the rocks causes it to go cloudy. Chill filtration involves lowering the temperature of the whisky to around zero degrees Celsius before passing it, under pressure, through barrier filters. These filters collect oils and fats present in the whisky and also remove any sediment or other impurities leftover from the cask.