Vodka Vs Aquavit: What's The Difference?

Hard liquor is a prickly subject. Depending on what U.S. state you live in, liquor is often sold in government-run stores and, as with all alcohol production in the country, it's closely monitored from distillation to sale. Liquor (or, spirits) is strictly divided from one another to assure quality and content as well as to protect the safety of their drinkers. 

Not all alcohol is liquor — drinks like winebeer, and cider are fermented, not distilled, which results in lower alcohol content than pure liquors like gin. According to Iberian Coppers LDA, distillation methods have been circulating since 2000 BC and were used in China, Egypt, and Mesopotamia to create balms and perfumes. But it wasn't until the 14th and 15th centuries that Europeans began to use the process to make spirits like whiskey

Today, we have a whole host of liquors to choose from. All are made with various different grains, fruits, and tubers, but sometimes telling them apart can be a bit difficult. Two spirits that are often mistaken for one another are vodka and aquavit.

What is vodka?

Most people associate Russia with vodka production, but it isn't the only country known to produce some outstanding bottles of this clear liquor. Different styles of vodka are distilled in countries all around the world, including Poland, Sweden, France, and Latvia (via! And yes, even though vodka is well known for its near-invisible color and neutral taste and aroma, there are a variety of ways it is made. Difford's Guide defines vodka as a spirit produced with agricultural products containing sugar or starch like potatoes, sugar beet molasses, and grains. Some vodkas are left with a little distinct flavor whereas others are heavily filtered.

The grains most often used in vodka are wheat, barley, rice, rye, and corn, but the liquor is distilled through a process that removes "impurities" from the product until it consists of little else but diluted ethanol (via Black River Distilling). Most people think of vodka as a bland and indistinct liquor that's only good for a cocktail base, which is partially correct — it does make for a great mixed drink — but there are distinctions between vodkas. 

Crafty Bartending claims that potato vodka is creamier and sweeter than rye-based vodka which tends to be earthier, while wheat vodka is super clear and crisp. This being said, the difference is subtle but notable. If you're really curious, conduct a side-by-side tasting of vodkas distilled from various sources.

What is aquavit?

When you look up pictures of aquavit, you'll likely find bottles filled with an amber-colored liquid or something that looks a whole lot like vodka. And it isn't much different from the famously neutral liquor. According to Taste Cocktails, aquavit is made much like vodka, using grains or a fermented potato mash during its distillation process. That might lead you to believe that aquavit tastes the same as any other vodka, or that it qualifies it as another version of vodka. But, there is one distinct difference.

Aquavit originates from Scandinavia and is characterized by its unique flavor of dill and caraway (via Zipps Liquors). Caraway is notable for its spiced licorice flavor and dill for its green herbaceous quality. Even the European Union weighed in on the requirements for aquavit stating that the liquor could use other spices like anise and cardamom so long as it includes caraway and dill as the main additives (via Food & Wine). So, like gin, aquavit is distilled much like vodka but distinctly stands out thanks to its trademark infusion of herbs.