One of the most popular distilled beverages consumed in the form of cocktails as well as otherwise; Vodka is a favorite of many. It is basically a clear liquid that comprises of water and distilled ethanol. The distillation, often multiple, of ethanol takes place from various fermented substances, including potatoes, grain or sugar beet molasses, flavorings, and so on. Vodka usually comprises of 35 to 50 percent alcohol. The origin of vodka is as interesting as the drink itself. If this statement aroused your curiosity, read further and get the complete background information on vodka.
History of Vodka
There is no consensus regarding the place where vodka came into being. Two countries, Poland and Russia, claim the distinction of being the birthplace of the beverage. In fact before 1950s, few people outside Europe had heard of the drink. The second half of the 20th century saw vodka crossing international boundaries and by 1975, vodka sales in the United States had crossed those of bourbon. Let’s check out the history of vodka in the two main countries that claim to have been its native place, Russia and Poland.
Poland has witnessed the production of vodka since the early ‘Middle Ages’. However, initially, the beverage was used as spirit, in the field of medicine. The works of Stefan Falimierz (1534) illustrate the fact that vodka was found to be beneficial for ‘increasing fertility and awakening lust’. With time, vodka blends started to be made. The best examples are ¯ubrówka and Starka vodka, both dating back to 16th century. It was around this time only that large-scale vodka production began in Poland, with the initiation being at Kraków (before 1550).
As we move on further, around 17th century, we see books (like Sk³ad albo skarbiec znakomitych sekretów ekonomiej ziemiañskiej) detailing the recipes of making vodka, from rye. It was also around mid-17th century that monopoly was granted to the szlachta (nobility), for producing and selling vodka in their territories, resulting in substantial profits. By 17th and 18th century, Polish vodka came to known in the Netherlands, Denmark, England, Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Moldavia, Ukraine and the Black Sea basin.
In the initial stages, the distillation methods of vodka were quite primitive. The exact production methods were described by Jan Pawe³ Biretowski, in 1768, and by Jan Chryzostom Simon, in 1774. Somewhere around this time, vodka industry started in Poland, with the first distillery being opened in 1782, in Lwów, by Jan Baczewski. With the arrival of the 19th century, the production of potato vodka was initiated. The first rectification distillery came to be established in 1871. Production of clear vodkas was made a Polish government monopoly in 1925. However, the victory of the Solidarity movement led to its privatization.
Somewhere around 950-1100 AD, a drink appeared in Russia, which was quite similar to the vodka we drink today. Initially known as bread wine, it contained AROUND 40 percent of alcohol till mid-18th century. The term vodka was only used in case of herbal tinctures, which comprised of 75 percent of alcohol. The term vodka was used in context of the beverage, for the first time, in an official Russian document, dated June 1751 by the decree of Empress Elizabeth. The document regulated the ownership of vodka distilleries.
With this, the government started receiving huge amount of money, in the form of taxes on vodka. By the mid-19th century, vodka had become one of the most popular drinks in Russia. Government repealed its monopoly on vodka production in 1863, leading to a sharp drop in its prices and the resultant increase in consumption. By early 20th century (1911), vodka comprised around 90 percent of all alcohol consumed in Russia. Till some time back (2001), the vodka consumption in Russia was 70 percent of alcoholic beverages.