Many often site Vodka as being the most bland, boring spirit around. Many see it as being good for nothing other than shots or mixing into cocktails. Now, for the most part this is fairly pointed out and correct but there is a growing group of distillers around the world that are making Vodkas so great, so pure, so smooth that it would be a sin to mix them into a sugar-laden cocktail.
Vodka has a long history, perhaps longer than any other spirit type. As many know it was the Russians and the Polish whom were the very first to distill a vodka. This dates back way into the Middle Ages though knowledge quickly spread out through continental Europe during the 13th and 14th centuries. Due to the extreme cold of Russia's climate the diets consisted of a lot of high-fat and high-calorie foods which could be hard to digest. Vodka was always drunk with food, chilled and neat, in order to aid with digestion. This still takes place throughout Russia though there is now more of a social aspect attached to the drinking of it, which is a concept created in the 17th century where it was customary to serve the highest quality Vodka in the land at Russian Imperial banquets.
One of the greatest aspects of Vodka is that it can largely be made from anything. As long as the base materials have fermentable sugars within them, it can be distilled. Most commonplace ingredients are high starch foods like potatoes and grains, such as wheat. Though, nowadays many Vodka producers will use whatever is handy with fruits, sugar cane, milk solids etc. These are then fermented till about 8-10% abv producing the 'wash'. The wash is then distilled into a pure and clean spirit: Vodka.
Water is one of the most important factors in making a quality Vodka. This is for two reasons: 1) it is used for the fermentation of the base materials - and can help to extract aromatic molecules in this way, and 2) it is used to water down the distillate into the finished Vodka. Water sourced from high quality springs is used as a marketing point of difference as it truly does make a large difference to the resulting Vodka, and the quality of said product. During the distillation many mass-produced Vodkas will be distilled and re-distilled to ensure a bland, neutral product. Those that aren't, the high quality and craft-minded spirits, aren't redistilled as many times and retain a lot more flavours from their base material. The water added in to bring down the spirit to around 40% abv is important as it needs to be aromatically beneficial and match with the flavours in the spirit base.
Most Vodka is plain and pure, though there is a growing market for flavoured Vodkas. These can be done in two ways: maceration or through the addition of flavourings/essences. With maceration, the finished vodka will be left to a tank with the desired fruits or herbs for a period of a few weeks, then goes on to be bottled.