Ask the Cellar Dweller: What’s the Difference between Vodka and Gin?

The Cellar Dweller explains the difference between vodka and gin.

difference between vodka and gin

Dear Cellar Dweller-

A friend and I recently had an argument about gin. Friend says that gin is just a flavored vodka. I say they are different spirits because gin is made from juniper berries. Who’s right here?


It’s Me, Right?

distilled juniper

Dear Right,

First of all, wow. You guys always ask me the BEST questions. Seriously, I’m impressed.

My short answer is, you’re both kinda right. Let me explain though, because it’s neat. And also, because this is what they pay me to do. Pull up a chair!

Vodka and Gin have a lot in common.

Both are distilled, clear spirits made predominantly from grain. They both start with neutral grain alcohol for a base. They are often used interchangeably in a wide variety of cocktails. That’s about where it ends, though.

Vodka, in its essence, is what it lacks. The word “vodka” itself denotes that: it is derived from the Russian word for water (voda). So to make vodka, you need two ingredients: neutral spirits and water. That mixture is filtered and treated until it is odorless and flavorless. The perfect base to provide your favorite flavors with a little kick!

On the other hand gin, in its essence, is what it is. To make gin you can start with that same neutral spirit base, but then add in botanicals. Or even add the botanicals right to the mash. In order to be official though, it must have at least some juniper in it.

So my own personal take, is that if Vodka is a ghost, then Gin is the Ghost of Christmas Present. Same basic principle, but Gin has a bit extra (in a good, non-Jacob-Marley-creepy sort of way).

ghost of christmas past

And the US government has a say, of course.

Of course! And they say there IS a difference between vodka and gin. According to the Tax and Trade Bureau, Vodka is classified as  “distilled from any material at or above 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof), and if bottled, bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof)“. YUM, right?

Gin, on the other hand: “main characteristic flavor derived from juniper berries produced by distillation or mixing of spirits with juniper berries and other aromatics or extracts derived from these materials and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof)“.

So There You Have It.

Gin can be made like a flavored vodka, but it’s official definition states that it is in a separate category. According to the US government, there is a difference between vodka and gin. Take that for whatever it’s worth, gentle reader. If nothing else, the government agrees with you!


CD the Cellar Dweller


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