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The History of Vodka

The history of vodka varies depending on who you ask; however, we know that the story originates in countries such as Russia, Sweden, and Poland. Here are some of the important facts we know.

The history of vodka spans across many Eastern European countries including Russia, Poland, and Sweden. Each country produces vodka in different ways with varying alcohol content, and the alcoholic beverage has progressed through the 14th century all the way to the 21st century. While the history of vodka is rich, every country around the world now enjoys vodka for how commonly known it’s become. Whether you’re in Eastern Europe or the United States, you will find people selling vodka, and you’ll find the most popular vodka brands internationally. Vodka has brought the world together over time. Here are some of the most important aspects of its beginning.

How It’s Made

Before going into the history of vodka, it’s important to know how vodka is made. Vodka is made through a distillation process. Vodka can be distilled from starches or sugar plants, such as corn, rye, wheat, or sorghum. Vodka can also be made from potatoes, molasses, and other byproducts, which is a pretty amazing fact about vodka you may not have known. Depending on the country where the vodka is made, the history of its production will vary. Some countries produce vodka specifically with certain substances, while others will vary their products. After the distillation process, the vodka is usually filtered, and occasionally, flavored.

Russian History

The history of vodka started in Russia in the 14th century. Vodka at this time was made by the distillation of grapes, and it was considered to be a spirit wine, because it was a combination between English spirits and wine. In 1430, the first Russian vodka recipe was created by Isidore the Monk, and it was a bread wine, which had a low alcohol content (no more than 40% ABV) and many people referred to it as “burning wine.”

Poland History

Poland also had a history of vodka around the same time period in the early 1400s. Vodka was commonly used as a medicine in the early days in Poland, but in the early 1500s, Polish writers discovered that vodka could be used for other purposes, such as for an increase in fertility and lust. There are many historic Polish vodka blends that are dated back to the 16th century, the 17th century, and the 18th century. Obviously, as time went on, vodka in Poland became more widely accepted as a casual drink and not just a medicinal remedy.

Swedish History

While the history of vodka shows that vodka production started in Sweden in the late 15th century, it wasn’t until the late 18th century that Swedish vodka production expanded. Potatoes became the main product used in the Swedish distillation process and distillery equipment also got better throughout the 19th century. Absolut vodka is one of the most popular Swedish vodka brands to this day, and Absolut vodka was created in 1979. Absolut is the base for many of the easy vodka cocktail recipes everyone should know, so it has an important place in vodka's history and modern usage. 

The Name

The Russian word for vodka means “water.” The history of vodka explains that the word vodka was written for the first time in 1405 in Polish court documents. The context referred to medicines and cosmetic products. The roots of the word for vodka in its possible origin countries all have meanings related to “burning.” These possible origin countries include Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Sweden, and Norway, and of course, their languages are so varied, that the word they use for vodka is hard to translate.

Flavored Vodka

While most vodkas go unflavored, there is a flavoring process that has become a part of the history of vodka over time. Flavored vodka is a big side market in the vodka industry today. In the early days, vodka flavoring was originally created to make vodka taste better when used for medicinal purposes. Some of the flavors that were added to home vodka mixtures included red pepper, ginger, and fruit flavors. Over time, flavored vodka has become a part of production with flavors being very varied from fruit to cinnamon to jalapeño and more. Now we have some of the best flavored vodkas on the market out there, spicing up drinks and cocktails around the world. 

Health Uses

The history of vodka shows that the substance was originally used for medicinal purposes. Vodka was used as a disinfectant and an antiseptic, as well as a fever reducer. However, even though vodka may have been beneficial in history for medicinal purposes before western medicine had evolved, today, we see vodka causing more health issues than treatment. When vodka is consumed in high quantities, it can lead to dehydration, disease, and death. Overall, warnings state that vodka consumption is only okay in very small doses.

Cooking Uses

Throughout history, vodka has also been used widely in the cooking world for many different recipes. It can be used to replace water when baking, and it can also be used in pasta sauces, cheesecake, seafood recipes, and more. When cooking, the vodka is heated to a high degree, so it does not have the same effect as consuming it as a drink.

USA History

It wasn’t until after World War II that the United States developed its own history of vodka. In 1934, Vladimir Smirnov sold the brand name of his vodka brand, Smirnoff, to an American man named Rudolph Kunnett, who began distilling the vodka in the United States. All throughout the 20th century, the vodka brand grew and other vodka brands also began popping up throughout the United States. Vodka became one of the most popular spirits to drink socially when drinks such as the Bloody Mary and the vodka martini were created.

Biggest Vodka Brands Today

Some of the biggest vodka brands today are Smirnoff, Grey Goose, UV, Tito’s, Belvidere, and more. There is such a wide variety in vodka brands from bottom to top shelf and Russian, Swedish, Polish, and American brands. All of these products vary by how they are distilled, what products are used, how filtered they are, and where they come from. The history of vodka, as you can see, is very diverse, which goes well with how diverse the people are who drink this spirit. Vodka, when drank responsibly, can bring people all over the world together.

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