More Vodka!

July 12, 2010

Torah Kachur

Science in Seconds On Location:  Torah in Moscow, Russia.


Welcome to Russia.  The first words you learn in Russian are simple:  "Vodka" and "headache".


No one knows their vodka like Russians.  Most Russians will have a favorite vodka that they claim is a thousand times better than the sledge Americans make or any other distillery.  But, all vodka tastes the same, doesn't it?  (I think I just alienated every Russian person alive).   It should all taste the same, considering vodka is just water and 40% ethyl alcohol.

Except, any Russian will tell you - not all vodkas are alike.  They wouldn't be caught dead drinking Stolichnaya, it's all about Jewel of Russia these days.  So, for all you supposed connoiseurs, luckily there is science to find differences at the molecular level for this much-loved spirit.  Reseachers from the University of Cincinnati and Moscow State University (obviously) looked at the chemical arrangement of the ethanol and water mix and found discrete differences between brand names. 



In particular, some brands of vodka had more cage-like structures of water that surrounded the ethanol molecules.  These molecular 'cages' , or clathrates, are formed by water molecules in the presence of ethanol because of differences in hydrophobicity that causes water to become more ordered. 


The  number and frequency of these clathrates is likely influenced by impurities in the distillation process that change the overall chemical composition of the vodka.  The article is full of data that was generated by various spectroscopic techniques to suggest the presence of these structures, at least transiently, in room temperature vodka.  There is no data, however, on the sobriety of the researcher as the tests progressed.


Similarly, the way vodka is served can change the flavour by possibly changing the number of clathrates in the mixture.  So, Bond wasn't just being sexy when he ordered "Shaken, not stirred".



Hu, N., Wu, D., Cross, K., Burikov, S., Dolenko, T., Patsaeva, S., & Schaefer, D. (2010). Structurability: A Collective Measure of the Structural Differences in Vodkas Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58 (12), 7394-7401 DOI: 10.1021/jf100609c



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