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Does passing vodka through a Brita filter really improve its taste?

The widespread TikTok hack claims that pouring cheap vodka through a Brita filter will transform it into top-shelf liquor. Science claims otherwise.

For many people “cheap” and “tastes good” are the main requisites when choosing an alcoholic drink. So, it is not a surprise that the Brita filter hack caught the internet’s attention — including mine. The premise is simple: grab your mickey of Smirnoff and your Brita pitcher and it is time to DIY!

This hack went viral on TikTok this past month, accumulating millions of views. TikTok users filmed themselves explaining the hack, “when you combine these two, you get something that tastes like water but acts like vodka” while pouring their low-end vodka into a Brita pitcher and claiming that it came out tasting just like water. The immediate reaction is for viewers to try it for themselves, ‘stitching’ their reactions to the original video. With hundreds of reactions to this hack, I found myself hearing a lot of conflicting reviews: some swore by this trick and others insisted that it did nothing.

Like most content on TikTok, the ‘Brita Hack’ also falls victim to the typical trend cycle. A quick search reveals that this idea has been around since the early 2000s. In fact, it was so popular that MythBusters did an episode debunking the idea that “you can turn low-grade vodka to high-grade vodka with six filters of a carbon filter.” In the episode, they run a double-blind test where three judges try samples of a low-end vodka that has been filtered one to six times, with an unfiltered shot and a high-end alternative acting as controls. The expert was able to identify exactly which shot was which, placing them in order of number of filtrations. To less-trained tastebuds, the ranking was more of a mix. They conclude the episode with gas chromatography results confirming that there was no fundamental chemical difference between the filtered and unfiltered vodka. This answered some of my questions, but I wanted to get down to the nitty gritty.

To better understand this mystery, I went back to the basics. How is vodka made? How do Brita filters work? And why do people disagree about how well this hack works?

Traditionally, vodka is made from fermented and distilled grain like wheat, rye, or corn. Other starting ingredients on the market include potato or other fruits or vegetables. No matter the raw material, the end product is a clear liquor with no distinct flavor. The quality of the beverage is characterized by the level of purity (ie. The lack of impurities) which consumers know as how ‘smoothly’ the drink goes down. Ideally, vodka is made up of just water and ethanol, but realistically there are minor compounds called congeners that leave the liquid impure. Some examples include esters, aldehydes, methanol, acetates, and acetic acid, all of which alter the final flavor slightly. Some have claimed that the Brita filter works by removing these congeners from less-pure vodka, improving the taste, and preventing the next-day hangover. This isn’t entirely true.

When it comes to the hangover claim, most studies point to ethanol and methanol as the main culprits. High levels of congeners have been implicated in the severity of the hangover, but they really aren’t the driving force to the porcelain throne.

Vodka is purified through distillation and filtration. Yes, just like General Chemistry I, it starts with distillation, a process that separates components of a liquid based on their differing boiling points. The liquid is heated until it begins to evaporate, and then separated into different chambers so manufacturers can keep the good stuff: ethanol. Who knew that phase changes could be part of mixology! This process is designed so that you can separate what is called the head, heart, and tail of the alcohol. The head has the lowest boiling point; it’s made up of impurities including methanol, which is separated and removed first. The tail has the highest boiling point, which is mostly water and unwanted water-soluble by-products. This part gets left behind after the evaporation and condensation of the heart, the ethanol that we desire, which has a boiling point that falls somewhere in the middle. As you can imagine, the exact temperature cut-offs between these components can be very specific, making it tricky to determine how to best distill a particular blend of alcohol. That’s why high-end vodkas will boast repeated distillations of their product, yielding the purest and best-tasting product.

The next step is filtration, which is a physical process using a type of screen that continues to separate out unwanted solid particles. Many production plants use charcoal, also called activated carbon, for this step because of its microporosity; it can absorb many teeny tiny chemicals that were left behind after distillation. Enter the Brita filter, an at-home charcoal filter that is designed for water. I see the connection now.

Brita’s intended purpose is to promote healthy hydration through water filtration. They sell a number of products including kettles, water jugs, and tap attachments that claim to “cut chlorine taste and reduce contaminants.” Brita is a household name, and for good reason. Whether you don’t trust your taps, or simply prefer the flavor, their products provide an easy solution for your daily H­2O. I perused their website and found that different Brita filter types target different impurities, ranging from chlorine only to a multitude of particulates including lead, mercury, cadmium, benzene, and asbestos. The standard (and most common) Brita filter has a mesh screen that removes visible flecks from the water, and a carbon block that reduces the chlorine taste and odor.

So now that we have all this background information, let’s answer the original question: does filtering vodka through a Brita filter really work?

Not really. A study that investigated the purification process of vodka found that smoother, higher-end vodkas go through more rounds of distillation, not filtration. When analysing the most common impurities in cheaper bottles, they found high boiling points, meaning that, again, this would be solved through a more rigorous distillation process. No matter how many Brita pitchers you have, you aren’t going to make Grey Goose at home.

The reason why the hack works for some people is due to a multitude of variables that have to fall into place: the brand of vodka, the raw materials and corresponding congeners, the type of Brita filter, how old the filter is, etc.… Which explains the variety of responses to the same trend. Basically, it’s possible to alter the flavor, but it is certainly not guaranteed. And it is highly unlikely to affect your chances for hangover.

A review paper on vodka analysis also confirmed gas chromatography as the most reliable type of analysis of vodkas. So, just like in 2006, consider that myth busted.


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