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Vodka is purified by distillation from a fermented substance such as grain or molasses, and it usually has an alcohol content of 35% to 50% by volume (70 - 100º proof). Vodka consists primarily of water and alcohol (ethanol), and sometimes various flavorings.
The classic Russian and Polish vodka is 40% ABV (USA 80 proof). This can be attributed to the Russian standards for vodka production introduced in 1894 by Alexander III from research undertaken by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev. According to the Vodka Museum in Moscow, Mendeleev found the perfect percentage to be 38. However, since spirits in his time were taxed on their strength, the percentage was rounded up to 40 to simplify the tax computation. At strengths less than this, vodka drunk neat can taste "watery"; above this strength, the taste of vodka can have more "burn". Some governments set a minimum alcohol content for a spirit to be called "vodka". For example, the European Union sets a minimum of 37.5% alcohol by volume.
Although vodka is generally drunk neat in its Eastern European and Scandinavian homeland, its growth in popularity elsewhere owes much to its usefulness in cocktails and other mixed drinks, such as the bloody Mary, the screwdriver, the vodka tonic, and the vodka martini.