What is sugarcane vodka?
Sugar vodka is vodka made from sugar cane. More technically, sugar vodka is a method of creating a neutral spirit (vodka is classified as a neutral spirit) made from the fermentation of cane sugar, water and yeast. That fermented liquid is then distilled to an extremely high alcohol level (approximately 95% alcohol by volume or “ABV”). Sometimes referred to as neutral spirit, rectified spirit or ethyl alcohol, it is a product that is legally classified as colorless, odorless and tasteless.
No! There is zero sugar in vodka. All of the sugar content is “consumed” in the fermentation process.
Technically, all alcohol requires a base of sugar substances (sucrose). Ethyl alcohol (the alcohol in vodka) is the result of yeast feeding on sugars (sucrose) which produces ethyl and CO2. When brought into contact with sucrose (sugars) at the appropriate temperature, yeast will literally begin to “eat” the sugars, the ethyl and CO2 is literally a byproduct of this process. This is the process of fermentation. The fermented liquid is referred to as a “wash”.
As the yeast produces alcohol in the sealed fermentation tank, the level of alcohol in the tank begins to rise. Eventually, the alcohol
level rises to a point where it actually kills-off the yeast, that is the end of the fermentation process. This usually occurs at 14%-20% alcohol by volume, depending on the yeast strain. At this point, the fermentation “wash” is distilled to separate the alcohol from the “wash”.
Why Sugar Vodka Tastes Better
Traditionally, vodka has been made from potatoes, wheat or other starchy (cereal) grains. Recently, some popular vodka has been made from corn. These raw materials are emulsified, cooked, then mixed with enzymes to convert the starches into fermentable sugars (sucrose) then fermented as described above.
However, when converting the grains into sugars, this process also results in the production of other substances and impurities, such as methyl alcohol, esters, acetone and other undesirable compounds. These byproducts are sometimes called congeners. The undesirable elements or congeners that are created from using grains require multiple distillations to produce a pure ethyl alcohol or vodka.
Cane sugar is inherently fermentable is its current state and does not require the addition of enzymes or added chemicals, it is virtually pure sucrose right from the start. Sugar vodka therefore does not produce nearly as many congeners as grain fermentation. Sugar vodka is a cleaner and more efficient way of making vodka.
So why use grains or potatoes to make vodka?
The best answer to this question is that wheat, potatoes and other cereal grains were traditionally the only products available to the people who originally started making vodka. Vodka was created in Poland and Russia. There was no cane sugar grown in these climates or even available to these early purveyors of the spirit. Even if the inventors of vodka had access to large quantities of cane sugar, back then sugar was an exotic luxury and was very expensive.
That tradition has survived into modern times for several reasons. The main reason is that potatoes and cereal grains are growth and produced on a massive scale; and, mostly from genetically altered plants. They are cheap, abundant and most of all, almost always subsidized by governments. Distilleries that use certain government-mandated agricultural products are often granted tax incentives or subsidies. These factors ensure that vodka-makers will cling to the use of these products, even though they are not ideally suited for making vodka.
There are many quality vodkas that made from grains or potatoes. In fact, over 95% of vodkas are made this way. However, we feel that sugar vodka is simply better from a purity, smoothness and drink-ability standpoint. This is due to the absence of impurities and congeners found in grain and potato-based vodkas.
This is why we are seeing a trend in ultra-premium vodka brands emerging that use sugar or sugar-rich fruits to produce vodka instead of cereal grains.