Cheap Vodka: From Terrible To Tolerable

Cheap Vodka: From Terrible To Tolerable

It comes in a plastic bottle. It tastes like pouring battery acid down your throat. It smells like a robot’s corpse. For around $US10 — you can get a lot of it.

It is cheap-arse vodka, and it is alcoholic hell. And it’s as affordable as it is horrible. But with an equally cheap technique involving coffee filters, funnels and the sixth element of the periodic table, you can turn that poison hell water into something more potable — and dare we say, even drinkable?

It’s Saturday afternoon, you’ve made it through the long week, and it’s time for Happy Hour. Gizmodo’s weekly booze column is a cocktail shaker full of innovation, science, and alcohol. Is this stuff safe to drink?

Cheap vodka is not without allure. Sometimes you’re broke. Sometimes you’re going to mix it with a bunch of other stuff, so who cares? Sometimes it’s all you have left in your liquor cabinet. It doesn’t matter why you want to drink it. Here’s how to make it better. You need only a few things, and you probably already have some of them:

Materials And Tools Required

  • Coffee filters
  • Two funnels (or plastic cups with holes cut in the bottom)
  • Regular drinking glasses (two should do)
  • Cheap vodka that you hate
  • The key ingredient: Activated carbon

What The Hell Is Activated Carbon?

Activated (or active) carbon is the sixth element, carbon, that’s been processed to be extra porous. All of those microscopic holes mean it soaks up toxins and impurities. This is why it’s found in all kinds of liquid filters — including those pro distilleries employ to make their high-end booze. To find it, check your local pet store.

To figure out the best way to use our bag of carbon, we talked to vodka mastermind Davy Lindig of Colorado’s Peach Street Distillers. He explained that charcoal filtration, in varying degrees of sophistication, is used by pretty much every vodka distillery in business. Lindig’s machine, which he calls a torpedo, draws the spirits upward through a pressurised tube to crank out hundreds of litres of vodka over 48 hours of filtration.

The underlying idea is the same on our homemade coffee filter method. Pass vodka through carbon and bad byproducts from distillation get sucked out. The pros do it. You can do it.

Here’s How To Make A DIY Vodka Filter

  • Using a strainer or colander, wash the carbon thoroughly under the faucet to get silt and residue off.
  • Put the washed carbon in a coffee filter. Put that coffee filter in your funnel.
  • Stick that funnel over a glass. Pour that awful vodka into the funnel filter. Let ‘er drip.
  • Put that filter over another glass. Pour the once-filtered vodka through the funnel again.
  • Each filtration will suck out more and more of the organic impurities that make your cheap vodka taste so cheap. Repeat as necessary. Lindig recommends five minutes of contact with carbon for any given batch of vodka.

At the Gizmodo Happy Hour Lab, our taste testers noted a strong preference for the post-filtration vodka, as opposed to the cheap stuff straight out of the bottle. It wasn’t Grey Goose, but it was “better”. It was something they would “drink again”. Most notably, the intense burning of the unfiltered liquor was strongly diminished. The flavour of the filtered swill is also affected by the carbon and coffee filters a bit — but a little smokiness and cardboard note is better than what you had before.

Is this cheap? Yes. Is it easy? Once you figure out what you’re doing, sure. Is it fun? Definitely! Is it practical? That’s up to you. Only you can decide how much your time is worth. Is it worth more than another trip to the liquor store for overpriced vodka? You tell us.