When deciding what to drink, many people choose based on whether they want a light or dark spirit. Once we narrow down which color liquor, we can move on to a more specific drink. On the clear side, we have gin and vodka. While both are clear spirits, they are worlds apart in taste and makeup. Let’s take a look at them both in comparison to each other, and really narrow down the difference between gin and vodka.
The Old Vs. The New...ish
Vodka has been around since the early 1000s (also known as the 9th century). It should be no surprise that Russia claims vodka as its creation, with storied brands like Stolichnaya and Smirnoff sporting Russian roots. Of course, now production has spread throughout the world as vodka has become quite popular over time.
Gin, on the other hand is a baby in comparison. Traced back to a Dutch product called Genever, gin made its debut in the 17th century. Like other alcoholic products, Genever and subsequent gin got its start as a medicinal product. Franciscus Sylvius is said to have created genever as a high-proof medication for circulatory health and other common issues. Genever was created in the 16th century and had many similar components to gin, in addition to a malted wine base. Gin got rid of the wine and added juniper berries. Speaking of juniper berries...
Is that Tree I Taste?
While good vodka is marked by what it lacks, specifically: taste, good gin is known to have an essence of juniper. Juniper can provide a pine scent and flavor, while also handing out a floral or herb taste. The pine aroma can be alarming at first; however, it provides a simple taste that still blends very well with other ingredients. Gin is most often enjoyed in a cocktail or with tonic at a minimum, due to its unique taste.
Who Ordered the Cocktail?
Gin became popular in the United States in the early 1900s, around the time prohibition hit. It got the moniker “bathtub gin”, as alcohol had to be made at home in some nontraditional conditions. You can imagine how a homemade product like that might taste. Thus, the underground speakeasies needed a way to serve this product without destroying their reputation by having terrible liquor. Thus, the cocktail gained incredible popularity. Mixing the “gin” with enough decent tasting ingredients creatable a drinkable potion that kept the speakeasies in business. To this day, gin remains a staple base for many cocktails.
Vodka, on the other hand, has long been known as a base for a cocktail or mixed drink for the opposite reason. The inherent lack of taste in vodka lends itself to be easily mixed with anything, while not intruding upon the overall flavor. Vodka drinks are often seen as “dangerous”, since they can taste like there is no alcohol present. Put vodka in some juice, and it still tastes like that juice.
How the Spirit Gets it Spirit
Both gin and vodka are created through processes called fermentation and distillation. They can both be made from grains, potatoes, or really anything. However, there is one major difference in production that creates the distinctive end products. Vodka leaves well enough alone as the fermented product is simply blended with water and distilled. Gin, on the other hand, is not satisfied with that and adds juniper berries to the product either during or after distillation.
Vodka production is quite straightforward. Outside of the base ingredients, not many changes. Ferment, distill, drink. Gin, on the other hand, is a little more diverse. There are five different styles of gin and three different ways to produce gin. The five styles are:
Gin does not stop with just multiple styles, but also has multiple types of production. Distilled gin puts the mash and juniper together prior to distillation. Redistilled gin takes a distilled gin and adds juniper berries and distills it again. Finally, compounded gin take a finished gin product and mixes it with herbs and juniper berries.
Who is More Popular at a Cocktail Party?
There is nothing more awful than a jealous spirit at a cocktail party. Ironically, these two end in a tie when it comes to popularity. Some would say all that separates the two are a few juniper berries. In fact, they can often be found in the same presentations. Gin and vodka both frequently find their way into a glass of ice, topped off with tonic water. Then, there is the martini. Believe it or not, the martini is classically made from gin. Many people think it is primarily a vodka drink. Just remember, when you are mixing with something that needs to stand out like cranberry or tomato juice - vodka is the way to go. If you need a little flavor help or want to make a very simple cocktail, like the gimlet, gin provides the tiniest kick.
Six Fun Facts About Gin and Vodka
- 1While the British are thought to be the most gin loving people, the Philippines actually buys the most gin. Over 43 percent of the world’s gin lands there!
- 2Vodka magically weighs less than water. A liter of water checks in at 1,000 grams, while a liter of vodka tops out at 953 grams. Magic!
- 3You can make gin too! Just take a bottle of vodka and infuse juniper berries and some herbs. Presto, changeo!
- 4There is a bottle of vodka that costs 3.75 million, yes million, dollars. It is aptly named Billionaire Vodka. They say it is distilled over special charcoal or something, but you may just want to stick with Grey Goose when you are trying to impress. In fact, you could buy well over 83,000 bottles of Grey Goose for the price of one Billionaire Vodka.
- 5One of the most popular gin drinks, the Gimlet, was concocted to prevent scurvy amongst British naval soldiers. Scurvy comes from the lack of vitamin C, so the Royal Navy thought gin mixed with lime juice was the perfect preventative measure. I’m guessing the gin was just an added bonus.
- 6Vodka is a bit of a jack of all trades. You can use it to soak a band-aid and rip it off easier. Put a teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of the liquid magic onto a plant to encourage flowers to grow. Put it on a cloth for a glass cleaner. Or you can rub it onto a jellyfish sting to remove some of the burns.
Still Confused? Let’s get a visual!
Here is a nice little chart laying out the difference between gin and vodka. Use it to your advantage next time you are trying to decide between the two.
Gin VS. Vodka
Hint of Pine
Gimlet, Gin/Tonic, Martini (classic)
Bloody Mary, Moscow Mule, Martini (dirty)
Not Quite Twins
At the end of the day, gin and vodka are so close to being similar yet so far away. Looks alone gives us no clue that they are so different in taste. They both hail from similar products like grain and potatoes. Yet, a few juniper berries go a long way in making these two taste so very different. Both represent themselves well alone or in a cocktail, so while the choice may be hard, either way usually works out just fine.