Jun
07
2010

Vodka: 60% water, 40% ethyl alcohol, 3% science

Let's form a transient cage-like entity around an ethanol molecule: I mean... a person. I think.
Let's form a transient cage-like entity around an ethanol molecule: I mean... a person. I think.Courtesy Urban Mixer
That's right, vodka is 103%. According. To. Me.

And today, on the birthday of Paul Gauguin, the inventor of vodka*, we learn that that extra 3% is composed largely of science. Possibly.

See, vodka is supposed to be a neutral spirit—pretty much just a tasteless 40% ethyl alcohol, 60% water solution. (Tasteless except for the taste of alcohol, which is very strong.) And yet, when you get to the age where going to a bar is an appropriate thing to do, you will see and hear gentlemen saying things like, "Grey Goose on the rocks!" And then they give the bartender an amount of money they probably worked half an hour or more to earn.

Why?

Three reasons:

1) Something about filtering. Whatever.

2) Some people are ridiculous. If you ever say something like, "Grey Goose on the rocks!" you're one of them. But that's ok, because it takes all kinds, you know?

3) Apparently there may be some science to their seemingly arbitrary brand loyalty, even though they may not be conscious of it.

In the 40/60 alcohol/water solution we call vodka, groups of molecules called "hydrates" form. Hydrates in vodka consist of a molecule of alcohol sequestered by a bunch of water molecules, bonded together with hydrogen. If the bottle of vodka were a club, say, the alcohol would be like an attractive individual, surrounded by damp gentlemen united by their taste for premium vodka. (Don't think about it too much—it's a dangerously recursive metaphor.)

Scientists carefully analyzed several different popular brands of vodka, and found that the concentration of hydrates differed in each. So a good vodka might be like a happening club, with lots of attractive people surrounded by fellas. Or maybe it'd be like a very exclusive club, with just a few foxy people being ground into sweaty embarrassment on a relatively lonely dance floor.

The scientists didn't go so far as to say what concentration of hydrates was best, only that different concentrations might lend to an individual's brand preference. Instead of actually tasting the difference, though, drinkers might "perceive" the concentration of hydrates through other qualities, like how "watery" the vodka feels (even though all the brands tested had the same concentration of water.)

So there may be something to the practice of ordering specific expensive brands of vodka, and then drinking them straight. That doesn’t mean you should do it, though.

*Not true. Paul Gauguin never invented vodka. He did die of syphilis, though. Happy birthday, Paul!

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Karen's picture
Karen says:

Vodka is so last minute. What about gin?

posted on Tue, 06/08/2010 - 11:47am
blame's picture
blame says:

20/20 did a less-scientific-but-equally-interesting social experiment involving self-professed vodka hounds. Blind taste tests found that these people who all had a go-to (and expensive) brand of booze ended up preferring cheaper brands. Here's the video:
http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=5216328

And, as an aside, I remember from my days in college, plenty of students (above the age of 21, of course) used Brita water filters to take out the harsh bite from cheapo vodka and poured it back into high-end vodka bottles. Fooled plenty of people.

posted on Tue, 06/08/2010 - 12:48pm
lorrie's picture
lorrie says:

Most of the people I know don't know about this vodka formula and they enjoy it just as well. I don't think vodka will ever be off the trends, people in alcohol treatment know more about that...

posted on Mon, 08/16/2010 - 10:28am
W.R.Monger's picture
W.R.Monger says:

All I know is that a really good Vodka burns blue almost clear (you feel the heat if you can't see it), a so, so Vodka burns orange/yellow (something other than blue, burning impurities), and a watered down cheap Vodka won't light up at all (too much water and other "additives").

I don't drink Vodka much anymore as my preferred poison is "Absinth". Pretty sure that's what drove Van Gogh crazy, or something like that...

posted on Tue, 01/14/2014 - 5:34pm

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