There are no uniform classifications of Vodka. In Poland, Vodkas are graded according to their degree of purity: standard (zwykly), premium (wyborowy) and deluxe (luksusowy). In Russia Vodka that is labeled osobaya (special) usually is a superior-quality product that can be exported, while krepkaya (strong) denotes an overproof Vodka of at least 56% ABV.
In the United States, domestic Vodkas are defined by U.S. government regulation as "neutral spirits, so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color." Because American Vodka is, by law, neutral in taste, there are only very subtle distinctions between brands. Many drinkers feel that the only real way of differentiating between them is by alcohol content and price.
Since Vodka tends to be a neutral spirit, it lends itself to blending with flavors and fortifying other beverages. In the 19th century, high-proof "Russian spirit" was held in high esteem by Sherry producers in Spain, who imported it to fortify their wines.
Neutral spirits are still used to fortify Port, Sherry, and other types of fortified wines, although the source of alcohol for such purposes these days tends to be the vast "wine lake" that has been created by European Union agricultural practices.
Flavored Vodkas have been produced from the start, originally to mask the flavor of the first primitive Vodkas, but later as a mark of the distillers skill. The Russians and Poles in particular still market dozens of flavors. Some of the better known types are:
Kubanskaya - Vodka flavored with an infusion of dried lemon and orange peels.
Limonnaya - Lemon-flavored Vodka, usually with a touch of sugar added.
Okhotnichya -"Hunters" Vodka is flavored with a mix of ginger, cloves, lemon peel, coffee, anise and other herbs and spices. It is then blended with sugar and a touch of a wine similar to white port. A most unusual Vodka.
Pertsovka -Pepper-flavored Vodka, made with both black peppercorns and red chili peppers.
Starka - "Old" Vodka, a holdover from the early centuries of Vodka production, which can be infused with everything from fruit tree leaves to brandy, Port, Malaga wine, and dried fruit. Some brands are aged in oak casks.
Zubrovka - Zubrowka in Polish; Vodka flavored with buffalo (or more properly "bison") grass, an aromatic grass favored by the herds of the rare European bison.
In recent years numerous other flavored Vodkas have been launched on the world market. The most successful of these have been fruit flavors such as currant and orange.