Blog: Olly WehringWhen is a vodka not a vodka?

Olly Wehring | 30 October 2006

The EU made its presence felt on several fronts last week, proving its usual source of controversy. While many in the drinks industry bemoan the part played by the authorities at times, on the issue of the definition of vodka , it is clear that the EU is simply holding up a mirror to the producers.

Last week, agriculture ministers from member states across the EU could not agree on what should and should not constitute vodka. While countries such as Poland, Finland and Sweden want vodka protected as a traditional spirit made only from grain or potatoes, there are others out there who feel that anything can be used to make vodka, so long as it tastes like, you’ve guessed it, vodka.

The argument is about heritage - traditional vodka-producing countries have a strong affinity for the product and believe they are the home of the spirit. As the planet becomes a smaller place, they argue, where you come from is an anchor in an ever-changing world.

The problem is, however, that the taste of vodka is pretty easy to recreate; the vast majority of consumers would not be able to tell the difference between vodkas made from a variety of raw ingredients. Indeed, at the meeting, the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, offered to set up a blind tasting for Council members.

Where this will end is tough to guess - probably with a compromise. But trading on what something is made of, or even where it came from, is proving harder and harder in the 21st century.


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