This Is The Real Difference Between Vodka And Gin

Shaken or stirred? With olives or a fresh twist of citrus? Those questions can be answered in time, but first – and perhaps more importantly – would you like vodka or gin? Choosing one spirit over the other may not change the hue of your cocktail, but it will most certainly change its taste.

VinePair claims that gin asserts "pine and herbal flavors" and vodka is an "odorless, tasteless entity." This makes sense since a document posted by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau defines gin as a liquid "produced by distillation or mixing of spirits with juniper berries and other aromatics or extracts" while it describes vodka as neutral spirits that are "distilled or treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials so as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color."

BBC Good Food explains that gin distillation starts with a neutral grain alcohol, but flavors are enhanced with the addition of juniper berries and other botanicals. In fact, gin gets its name from genever, the Dutch word for juniper (via The Manual). Smithsonian Magazine explains that the flavor of juniper berries is reminiscent of pine, with nuances of fruit and pepper. On the other hand, the word vodka comes from "voda," the Russian word for water (via Britannica).

Which spirit is right for your cocktail?

When it comes to mixing your cocktail, decide if you want a blank canvas or something with a hint of pine. With roots dating back to the Middle Ages (and a history of use as herbal medicine), gin is one of the most popular spirits worldwide (via Secret Gin Club). According to Global Newswire, an analysis by Research and Markets found that gin is one of the fastest-growing categories in the global spirits market, and U.S. sales for the juniper-based spirit reached $3 billion last year. 

Vodka also dates back to the Middle Ages where the spirit was produced from potatoes and served as a remedy against cold Russian winters (via Dry Martini). These days, vodka can be distilled from wheat, rye, corn, sugar cane, beetroot, grapes, vegetables, fruit, and anything else that ferments (via Facts and Details). And while gin may be gaining traction, vodka reigns supreme as the biggest spirit category in the U.S. (via The Spirits Business). In fact, according to The Distilled Spirits Council, vodka generated $6.6 billion in distiller revenue in 2019.

When it comes to crafting cocktails, get gin-spired by Taste of Home. The magazine serves up 15 different ways to enjoy the piney spirit from the classics like the gimlet, Tom Collins, and the dry martini, to the Gibson, negroni, and vesper.

If vodka is your spirit animal, BBC Good Food shares 37 different drinks, from the colorful Cosmopolitan to a spicy Bloody Mary, Moscow mule, and a Brazilian-inspired caipiroska. If you're really looking to up your vodka cocktail game, you can also try adding this unexpected ingredient.