Is it really vodka?

Take it to the test

With the wide range of craft vodkas being produced in BC, it’s interesting to ask, “Are these really vodkas or should the Canadian definition of vodka be changed?” According to Canadian Food and Drug Regulations “B.02.080 [S]. Vodka shall be a potable alcoholic beverage obtained by the treatment of grain spirit or potato spirit with charcoal so as to render the product without distinctive character, aroma or taste.”

We easily find a considerable number of BC vodkas that do have distinctive character, aroma, and taste.

The Canadian definition of vodka is quite clearly stated, yet we easily find a considerable number of BC vodkas that do have distinctive character, aroma, and taste. There are also numerous distilleries in BC openly admitting to the use of fruit to produce vodka. So why are these distilleries using the word vodka on their labels? Well, we simply do not have a regulatory body to enforce neutrality or what base materials are used in production.

As distillers across Canada are straying from the federal definition it would seem that the Canadian definition of vodka is long overdue to be updated to include the use of any fermentable agricultural raw material, just like both the US and the European Union have done. However, as of the last amendment on December 27, 2017, no such changes have yet been made to the Canadian Food and Drug Regulations.

Our Canadian definition of vodka is very similar to the US, “A neutral spirit, so distilled or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, so as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.” While the European Union allows for vodka to be “distilled and/or rectified so that the organoleptic characteristics of the raw materials used and the by-products formed in fermentation are selectively reduced” and allow the addition of “other flavorings that may give the product special organoleptic characteristics.” What this means is that the EU allows vodka to be non-neutral, to carry distinctive characteristics of the raw materials. This is often referred to as a European style of vodka. So, why are there so many BC distilleries that produce vodka in a European style, having distinctive character, aroma, and taste? One producer even clearly states on their website that they distill a “European style with distinctive character of the grain.” Perhaps some of the producers of these EU style vodkas in BC are unaware of the Canadian definition, or perhaps they lack the necessary equipment to distill and/or rectify the grain spirit or potato spirit to a point of neutrality. Perhaps some producers have decided not to employ a treatment of charcoal as stated by the CFDR definition. I often hear people describe BC vodkas as being “Crafty”, using this term to explain the presence of distinctive character, aroma, and taste and unfortunately, there is not room for interpretation of what Canadian vodka is defined as. If distillers would like the Canadian definition of vodka to change then it will have to be done on a federal, not provincial level.