Difference between Gin and Vodka

Published on November 29, 2016

Both gin and vodka are grain-based spirits with European origins. They are both clear and colorless, and both are made using starchy grains (e.g. wheat and barley) and root crops like potatoes. However, the similarities end there; there are many differences that even a relative newcomer can detect. This article will describe the difference between these two types of liquor.

Definitions

Gin vs Vodka
Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin

The word “gin” comes from the old English word genever, which has its roots in the French and Dutch words for the juniper berry. An earlier form of the liquor appears in Dutch records dating back to the 13th century, and gin became popular in England by the 1600s. Improved distillation methods gave rise to the gins of today, and gin distillation is now a global industry.

According to European Union rules, there are four basic types of gin:

  • Gin, which is a grain-based alcohol with added natural flavorings, including juniper
  • Distilled gin,which is a grain alcohol re-distilled with juniper berries or other botanical flavoring agents in traditional stills, and to which flavor can be added after re-distillation
  • London (dry) gin,which is similar to distilled gin except that the only flavor allowed to be added is a tiny bit of sugar
  • Juniper-flavored spirit drinks, which come from pot-distilled fermented grain mash and are re-distilled with flavorings

The EU and the USA have different alcohol content requirements for gin, at 37.5% and 40% alcohol by volume, respectively. Despite having a very strong flavor, gin is popular as a mixer for cocktails such as martinis, Long Island Iced Tea, and Singapore Slings. 

Vodka
Smirnoff Vodka

While mystery still shrouds the origins of vodka, the earliest known occurrence of the word is in 15th-century Polish document. The drink was touted for its reputed medicinal properties. At the same time, Russians were already producing grain-based distilled alcoholic drinks. However, the word “vodka” did not apply to these liquors collectively until 1751.

Most vodka producers today use rye and wheat, but some use potatoes, sorghum, grapes, sugar beets. However, certain members of the European Union contend that the definition of vodka should include only clear liquors manufactured from grains, potatoes, and beets.  

Vodka goes through a multi-step manufacturing process. This process includes repeated distillations and filtrations. The end result is a clear, colorless and flavorless liquor that has a high alcohol content – 37.5% in the European Union and 40% in the United States. Most producers add water and flavorings to the vodka before the bottling process. While many cocktail recipes use vodka, its consumers in Eastern Europe traditionally drink it neat and chilled.

Gin vs Vodka

What’s the difference between gin and vodka? On the surface they seem very much alike, but they have different characteristics such as scent and place of origin.

Scent and Flavor

Juniper berries dominate the scent and flavor of gin. In fact, the word “gin” comes from the French and Dutch words for “juniper.” In contrast, vodka tastes “clean;” that is, it should have no discernible flavors aside from that of the alcohol. Many vodka producers, however, take advantage of this blank canvas and add flavoring agents such as blackcurrant and lemon to the finished product.

Alcohol Content

Gin and vodka have the same minimum alcohol content requirements: 37.5% in the European Union and 40% in the United States.

Origin

Gin has its roots in Western Europe, particularly in the Netherlands, France, and England. Vodka comes from Eastern Europe, including Poland and Russia. 

Production

Gin is a grain-based alcohol to which flavorings, including juniper berries, are added during or after re-distillation. Vodka is also a grain-based alcohol which goes through a number of distillations and filters.

Consumption

Despite gin’s particularly strong flavor, it is an ingredient in many cocktails. Vodka, in contrast, is traditionally consumed chilled. However, many cocktails, such as the vodka martini, include it as an ingredient. 

Comparison Chart

Gin Vodka
Flavored mostly with juniper berries Odorless and flavorless

37.5% ABV (EU); 
40% ABV (US)

37.5% ABV (EU); 
40% ABV (US)
Comes from Western Europe Comes from Eastern Europe
At most one re-distillation Goes through a number of distillations and filtrations
Used mostly in cocktails Consumed neat and chilled or as an ingredient in cocktails

Video

Watch the video below to watch a distiller discuss the differences between gin and vodka.