Stolichnaya or Grey Goose, martinis shaken or stirred: Everybody’s got a preference. Vodka may not taste like much—in industry terms, it’s neutral—but any bartender can tell you about the fierce partisanship its different types inspire. This division among drinkers, a new study suggests, could be a result of slight differences in the vodkas’ molecular structure.
Vodka is about 60 percent water by volume, and 40 percent ethanol, an alcohol. The water and ethanol naturally mingle in such close quarters, and some of the molecules stick together in interesting ways.
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati and Moscow State University compared the chemical composition of five common brands—Belvedere, Grey Goose, Oval, Skyy, and Stolichnaya—to see if those water-ethanol groupings always happen the same way. They found that two of the vodkas had a higher concentration a certain cage-like chemical structure, in which five or so molecules of water surround each ethanol molecule. This difference, the researchers say, might explain our preferences for one brand over another. It’s even possible that the act of shaking a vodka martini breaks up those cage structures.
It’s not clear if such a subtle change in molecular make-up could affect taste, or even that those cage-like structures hold together long enough to have much of an impact at all. So for now, it may be wise to take this explanation with a grain of salt—and, while you’re at it, maybe a few olives.
— by Valerie Ross
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