Gin vs Vodka: Battle of the clear spirits

Is gin better than vodka? What is gin? How is it different from vodka?

This is a million dollar question and it’s a bit more complicated than being asked if you’d like your cocktails shaken or stirred. Let’s go beyond personal preference and test our knowledge on how well we know our favorite spirits.

So what does gin bring into cocktails? Is vodka any different? What’s even the difference between the two? These are some questions that a spirit enthusiast may already know the answer to but someone who just started taking interest may not know. Fret not, we’re here to help you navigate your way through the exciting world of spirits (we mean liquor, not ghosts). It’s time to level up your knowledge!

So who do you think will reign supreme? Gin or vodka? 

P.S. If you already know the answer to this, try these 5 Asian Cocktails We Love instead! 

Is gin just flavored vodka?

Gin is just flavored vodka – how true is this? What is gin, anyway? More importantly, do you get a Christmasy feeling whenever you drink gin? Does it make you dance like crazy? Silly questions but very commonly asked about our favorite clear spirit. 

Let’s start off by answering the burning question at the forefront of your mind – No, gin and vodka are not the same. Well, they are grain-based liquors but that’s where the similarity stops. While both can be made out of just anything fermentable, gin has its own distinct taste that brings about different nuances to cocktails. Gin is officially defined as “spirits with a main characteristic flavor derived from juniper berries produced by distillation or mixing of spirits with juniper berries and other aromatics or extracts derived from these materials.” Juniper is what makes gin a gin.

Some of the spices that go into gin

Some of the popular botanicals used to flavor gin include lemon or orange peel with a combination of spices like star anise, coriander and cinnamon.

For Paper Lantern, we make our very own base spirit from rice lending a noticeable silky finish to the gin. It has a carefully curated selection of Asian spices and flavors. You get perfumed citrus notes from lemongrass and makhwaen while Sichuan peppercorn adds earthy and warm notes to the gin. The flavors are infinitely versatile in cocktails and cited as a reason to keep coming back for more by bartenders and consumers around the world. It is a wonderful sipping gin and a base to many popular cocktails. 

To know more about gin and its history, check out these 8 Surprising Facts about Gin.

Now, what is vodka?

Vodka comes from the Slavic word voda, which means water. This isn’t because you gulp down vodka like water. It’s actually because the primary component of this drink is ethanol and water. The official definition of vodka is  “any neutral spirits distilled or treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials so as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.” 

Traditionally, distillers have used corn, wheat and rye to make their bases. Over time, they’ve discovered that they can also use potatoes and sugar beets. Some distillers would add flavors after distillation to make flavored vodka. Even so, this liquor lacks the herbal and piney notes that gin has.

Regardless if it’s tasteless, vodka is surprisingly the most consumed spirit in America since the 70’s (hello college sorority parties). Sweden is the largest exporter of vodka while Russia has the largest market for it. So we can definitely say that vodka has a huge fanbase.

Here’s a sneak peek on how vodka is made:

So, what’s the difference between gin and vodka?

To round it up, gin has aroma and character with the subtle hint of piney notes from Juniper. It would be evident on taste and even a quick sniff. Vodka on the other hand is like a blank canvas with no distinct taste or color. While the others have used the two spirits interchangeably, you will notice a huge difference in flavor when used in cocktails. 

Gin is ideally made to be mixed into a drink as the botanicals come to life, adding complexity to cocktails. This is the main reason why a number of classic cocktails call for gin, and not vodka. However, vodka has its own merits in the form of Bloody Mary, White Russian and Moscow Mule. Martini is enjoyed by both gin and vodka enthusiasts. Vodka-based cocktails mostly take on the characteristics and flavors of whatever else is mixed with it. However, you’ll be missing the herbal and aromatic notes from the gin.

In this sense, we can say that gin is more than just a flavored vodka and vodka is not merely a flavorless gin. Note that some gins have strong piney juniper flavor. We’re not too sure though if it’s reminiscent of Christmas. As for gins making you dance like crazy, we’ll leave it up to you to answer.  

In the meantime, we’ll shake some martinis – with Paper Lantern Gin, of course! 

For inspiration, check out 3 Different Ways to Enjoy a Martini (yes, martini anytime of the day) and head on to our Shop for a bottle of Paper Lantern Gin.

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