Vodka is traditionally distilled from fermented grain or potatoes and is composed mainly of water and ethanol. As a result, vodka on its own has no real character or complexity and is therefore drunk mainly mixed in long drinks or cocktails.
Vodkas hailing from Eastern Europe tend to be 40% ABV although the minimum requirement as set by the European Union is 37.5% ABV. The U.S.A. however require products described as vodka to be of a minimum 40% ABV.
In its native lands, known as the vodka belt which stretches from Eastern Europe to the far reaches of the East coast of Russia, vodka is traditionally drunk neat and chilled however in the Western world it is far more commonly served as a basis for long drinks and cocktails.
Repeated distillation increases the alcoholic content of the spirit and thus the finished product can be as high as 98% and with each distillation the vodka tends to increase in quality as more impurities are removed. Some vodkas are bottled at these mind-blowingly high alcohol by volume levels however the vast majority are watered down to around the 40% ABV mark.
The practice of flavouring vodka is a very common one nowadays with large companies such as Smirnoff releasing expressions such as Blueberry, Apple, Coffee etc. In addition, boutique distilleries are producing more unusual flavours such as Seville Orange, Rhubarb and Raspberry.