What Are the White Flakes In Vodka? Poor Distilling Practices [OPINION]

A Few Words About Quality Assurance in Distilling: White Flakes in Vodka are Preventable and Unacceptable

We’ve been interviewed by number of publications lately about vodka quality. In the interest of keeping this an honest debate and non-partisan, we won’t mention any names or brands. In particular, a few isolated issues with certain vodka brands who have been cited for the presence of excess white flakes (hard water sediment) in their vodka. Crystallization can occur in vodka, but when it does occur, it’s usually in the form of very fine transparent slivers or filaments and it’s quite rare in an unopened bottle. A bottle of vodka that has sediment or flakes should be removed from store shelves and not sold to the consumer.

Naturally, we think an unopened bottle laden with a visible layer of sediment settled on the bottom is unacceptable. We wish to say unequivocally that these white flakes in vodka are a basic distillery process failure, period! Whether it’s Colorado or elsewhere, vodka that is fermented, distilled and filtered correctly should not have any sediment, mineral deposits or white flakes visible in unopened bottles on a systemic basis. This is a failure to mange the water supply used in the distillery.

Liquor industry co-packing

ALSO READ: Private Label Distilling

The Flood of Low Quality, Private-Label Brands is Diluting Craft Integrity

There have been a flood of private label distilling brands emerging in the marketplace in the past five years, and no shortage of quick-buck artists trying to hawk cheap vodka in a fancy bottle. Mostly, these are brands that emerge from nowhere with celebrity endorsements. In our experience, that rarely ends well, and we’ve seen our share of flash-in-the-pan start-ups. This is not an easy business and it takes more than a fancy bottle, your juice has to be good.

A Colorado brand has recently emerged on the “flash-in-the-pan” radar recently and unfortunately, the proprietors are paying more attention to marketing than what’s in their bottle. It’s not likely that the owners of this company have ever personally been involved in the distillery process, let alone know what it entails. They outsource every aspect of their vodka brand, except for the marketing…and it shows. In all honesty, what’s in their bottle is disappointing, almost neglected. They are three steps removed from the actual distillery process. This company is buying corn-based ethanol on the commodity market that they contract someone else to process it. It’s likely they don’t even know who has distilled it.

This is commercial-grade, mass-produced vodka washed with sweeteners to make it appear smoother to the palate. This is is an example of inexperienced people, hiring a third-party co-packer to make a private-label they know nothing about. Who is at the wheel here? Neither the co-packer hired to do the private-label bottling nor the brand owners seem to care or understand quality assurance. Unfortunately, this is happening in the tequila and bourbon markets as well.

While there are no known health hazards associated with this failure, it’s a failure nonetheless and it hurts the quality perception of craft distilling. It can easily be avoided, and I guess consumers can decide whether they want a mouthful of sediment in their cocktail.

An Anomaly Among Professional Craft Distillers

There’s plenty of room for all the distilleries here, this is not a competitive issue. These guys are actually talented marketers, but they don’t have much respect for the craft or their customers. And, if they think selling a vodka laden with sediment is a good marketing strategy, that’s their prerogative. However, making erroneous statements about the entire marketplace is not their prerogative. Of the dozens of vodka makers in Colorado, I’ve never seen this level of quality neglect.

What is most offensive about this is that the owners of the company have posted a message on their website suggesting this is normal for Colorado vodka. It is not normal for Colorado or any other state to have a flurry of white flakes in vodka. Let’s be honest, this is ridiculous. There are about two dozen vodkas made in Colorado and only one of them is being distributed with hard water flakes and sediment in them. Staff at the local liquor stores now joke about it and say it looks like a snow globe when shaken and some have nicknamed it the “dandruff vodka.”

Statement about Sediment Deposits on Producer’s Website

Brand-owner’s Website About Hard Water Flakes in their Vodka

The statement above is deceptive at best and a misleading statement about the presence of sediment in this producer’s product. To be fair, there is also a California-based brand owner that has a similar disclaimer and cites the “Pacific Minerals” as the cause of sediment. This is equally absurd marketing doublespeak! Are they using sea water? Really, “Pacific Minerals?” As a professional, this is frustrating, I am sure as a consumer it’s just impossible to sort-out the fact from fiction. Both of these claims fall far short of the “common-sense sniff test.”

While it is true that most Colorado water is mineral-rich, it’s not the reason there are calcium flakes in their vodka. They have these white flakes in their vodka because of poor water handling practices. In addition, they mention adding “a touch of sweetness.” Sugars improperly diluted will attach to trace minerals in vodka. Whatever the reason, thirty master distillers in Colorado and hundreds worldwide are able to figure it out using the same water or mineral-rich water and they all produce crystal-clear vodka. This is the distiller’s equivalent of the “dog ate my homework” excuse. These are not serious people.

But instead of fixing the problem, they have taken the incredibly disingenuous and selfish step of trying to spin their shortcoming on a bogus scientific phenomenon, that has no credibility and end-up impugning the entire industry in this region. I hope that was not their intention, but the unintended consequence of that excuse is that “Colorado vodka will contain this nasty sediment.” In our opinion, this is arrogance, a lack of respect for the craft and marketing doublespeak. Professional distillers understand the issue of hard water and how to process it, it happens in a lot of places; this is one of the most basic aspects of distilling. To be fair, hard water fallout can happen sporadically and rarely. We are not talking about microscopic crystal shards and trace elements, this is a large deposit of large flakes, which is alarming to see in a bottle of vodka.

Once it becomes a matter of marketing, it’s pretty clear that there is a lack of expertise going on here. For a distillery that spends 5 times the industry average on filtration and submits its own quality assurance to the scrutiny of organic certification, this leaves a real bad taste in the mouth.

‘We have spent years and a lot of money trying to establish craft spirits as among the highest-quality products in the industry. This quality control failure and the marketing cover-up does not help us in elevating craft spirits on the national or local level.’

Denver-Area Craft Distributor

White Flakes in Vodka is Easily Preventable

We here at Felene have made a decision not to name the brand. And while this producer is well aware of the situation (they acknowledge it on their web site) we hope they do the right thing and correct their errors and move on to having great success. Instead, we implore them to remove the language on their website that implies it’s normal for Colorado vodka to be laden with sediment. That is a cover-up of a manufacturing failure and it’s outright gaslighting the consumer. What’s more, it’s offensive to the dozens of vodka distilleries that produce crystal-clear, sediment-free vodka using the same Colorado water. We will leave it to the consumer to be the judge if they want to drink the vodka with a mouth full of sediment. But in the end, do you really wish to continue to market a murky product like this? Again, we hope for their success and strongly advise them to correct this easily-remedied issue.

We, along with dozens of other distilleries use the same water supply and we acknowledge the mineral-rich composition of Colorado’s mountain snow-melt water source. Colorado’s water supply is among the purest water in the world and it makes incredible spirits. However, every other distiller manages to put out straight vodka that is free from sediment and crystal-clear except this one producer. This is not an issue of Colorado’s water, its a matter of professionalism and integrity.

Are we really having this debate? Let me say unequivocally that the presence of white flakes in vodka is easily preventable, period!

Tim Kelly, master distiller

It is ridiculous to suggest that this is normal, beneficial or otherwise acceptable to market a vodka that is known to have foreign elements at this concentration straight out of the distillery. Can vodka go bad over time after it’s opened? Yes, but this is not what we’re addressing here. This is what happens when people who have no experience in distilling enter the marketplace. Most of the distillers in Colorado get into this business for the passion of making a quality product and spend years learning the craft. In my case it was four years of training. This particular brand is being marketed by a people that have never produced a bottle of spirits themselves. I have nothing against their motives, and wish them success, even if it’s purely the pursuit of money. However, not at the expense of the reputation of Colorado’s distillers.