Vodka is a distilled liquor composed solely of water and ethyl alcohol with possible traces of impurities and flavorings. Vodka is made from a fermented substance of either grain, rye, wheat, potatoes, or sugar beet molasses.
Vodka’s alcoholic content usually ranges between 35 to 50 per cent by volume; the standard Russian, Lithuanian, and Polish vodkas are 40 percent alcohol by volume (80 proof).
Historically, this alcoholic-proof standard derives from the Russian vodka quality standards established by Tsar Alexander III in 1894. The Muscovite Vodka Museum reports that chemist Dmitri Mendeleev determined the ideal proof as 38 percent; however because in that time distilled spirits were taxed per their alcoholic strength, that percentage was rounded upwards to 40 percent for simplified taxation calculations.
For such a liquor to be denominated “vodka,” governments establish a minimal alcoholic proof; the European Union established 37.5 percent alcohol by volume as the minimal proof for European vodka. Although vodka is traditionally drunk neat in the vodka belt — Eastern Europe and the Nordic countries — its popularity, elsewhere, derives from its neutral spirit usefulness in cocktails and mixed drinks, such as the bloody Mary, the screwdriver, the White Russian, the vodka tonic, and the vodka martini.