Vodka Vs. Whiskey: How Are They Really Different?
Alcoholic drinks are made up of just that—alcohol. But how do these drinks differ from one another? What sets each one apart?
Two such alcoholic drinks, vodka and whiskey, are often compared, although they cannot be further apart on the spirit spectrum. Although they do share a few similarities, the two drinks are very different. If you are wondering what the differences are, here are a few points on vodka vs. whiskey, but first, here is a brief introduction to the two spirits.
Vodka is a clear distilled liquor, and the word “vodka” means “little water” (derived from the Slavic word “Voda” which means water).
There is not much historical evidence about the exact time and place of origin of the alcoholic beverage, but one thing that most historians agree on is that it was originally used as medicine as well as perfume, aftershave, and cosmetic cleanser.
Also, the original liquor had a lower alcohol content, which was not more than 14%, compared to modern vodka, which has an alcohol content of 40%. Vodka can be made from several ingredients, but it is mainly made from cereal grains.
Once the sugars are fermented into alcohol, the liquid is distilled. Distillation is a very important step in the process, as it removes unwanted elements and concentrates the alcohol content.
The old vodka was very different from the present-day vodka in terms of clarity and distillation. Modern vodka undergoes several distillation processes and yields a clearer liquid.
So, what is vodka? It is a clear distilled liquid with an alcoholic content of 40%. It is a tasteless (as tasteless as 40% alcohol can be), odorless, and colorless liquid that is distilled anywhere between two and eighteen times. The more distilled, the better the taste, so many manufacturers even mention the number of times it was distilled.
Another distilled alcoholic beverage, whiskey comes in many varieties depending on the grain used for fermentation. The word whiskey also means “water” (“usice” in Gaelic means water) and has the same origin as Slavic Voda.
The grains go through a malting process—that is, the grains are soaked, germinated, and mashed, and the remaining liquid is used for fermentation. After fermentation, the liquid goes through distillation and heating, similar to vodka, and an additional step of maturing.
Whiskey is aged for years in oak barrels, which gives the beverage a different hue. The finished product’s color can range from light yellow to dark brown, depending on how it was matured.
Vodka Vs. Whiskey: 6 Differences
Although both liquors are made in remarkably similar ways, the few differences in production have a significant impact on flavor.
Vodka is considered a tasteless liquid. However, it still has a subtle flavor and a sweet, smooth taste. Its flavor is impacted by the ingredients used. So, vodka made from potatoes has more sugar (due to its high starch concentration), and so, it has a sweeter taste than vodka prepared from grains. Also, many spices, fruits, and herbs are added to give the vodka a distinct flavor.
Whiskey is stronger, with an alcohol content of 40 to 60%. Also, the taste of every whiskey brand is different as it depends on the grain used, the water, and the aging process. This gives whiskey a huge flavor profile.
So, some may have a rich, dry, and spicy taste, while others may have a caramel or vanilla taste.
Vodka is described as having a smell like that of rubbing alcohol, while whiskey has a very strong and distinct aroma. Whiskey is smelled before drinking; this offers a sense of the taste of the whiskey. It is also recommended to swirl whiskey in the mouth before gulping it for the best experience. While each brand may have a different smell, generally, the smell of whiskey is described as woody, peaty, and smoky.
Vodka variations depend on the base used for fermentation. It has limited variations, and the main ones are:
• Potato vodka
• Grain vodka
• Flavored vodka
• Spice/herbal vodka
• Fruit vodka
Unlike vodka, whiskey comes in several varieties. Every whiskey has a unique flavor, and the main variations are:
Bourbon: It is one of the most common types of whiskey, with others being scotch and rye. Bourbon has a caramel taste and contains at least 51% corn. It has vanilla hints and an oak-like aftertaste.
Scotch: It is made from malted barley and can be peated or unpeated. Peated scotch has an earthy, smoky flavor as the barley is dried over a peat fire.
Rye: Whiskey made from rye is processed similarly to bourbon but has a spicy bite. It is intensely dry and has a base of malt or barley along with corn and a significant amount of rye.
4. Health Benefits
Vodka is a pure, clean spirit that was originally prepared for medicinal use. Apart from being used as an antiseptic, it is also said to be a great source of antioxidants, protecting the body from free radicals and many illnesses.
It also has a high potassium content that may prevent heart disease and regulate blood pressure. It is the preferred drink for weight-conscious people as it has fewer calories (around 97 calories per serving).
Whiskey has several health benefits. Like vodka, whiskey too is a low-calorie drink, decreasing the risk of obesity. It may reduce inflammation, improve heart health, improve immunity, relieve cold symptoms, and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
While the aftereffects of any alcoholic beverage are dependent on a person’s tolerance, other factors such as congeners in the drink also play an important role.
If you don’t know what congeners are, they are the by-products of fermentation.
Vodka is a clean spirit containing only alcohol and water. It is distilled several times to remove impurities. As a result, it has fewer congeners and will only give you a mild hangover.
Whiskey, on the other hand, is a strong drink and has more congeners. It is only distilled once, so it has a higher concentration of mixtures and byproducts.
6. Consumption Type
Due to its versatility, vodka is a great choice for cocktails and mixed drinks. It can be combined with virtually any flavor to give you the flavor of your choice.
Since whiskey is a stronger beverage, it is best enjoyed neat rather than in a cocktail.