Vodka is the distilled product of the most plentiful materials available to the distiller, wherever that may be. Defined as to be odorless, flavorless and colorless, it is the product of various grains, predominately corn, however other grains and even potatoes are used extensively. Wheat is now becoming a popular base source for Vodka, and now even grapes have been used to produce this neutral spirit.
The finished product being neutral in flavor, unless determined to be a flavored Vodka (lemon, lime, orange, pepper ect.), disposes this spirit to be mixable with almost any other flavor or mixer. This has led Vodka on an explosive path of popularity. It is now far and away the spirit of choice in North America as well as extremely desired the world over.
The History of Vodka
Vodka is said to be developed in the Northern European region. The country of Poland claims it was their discovery and the Russians will tell you it was theirs. Wherever the true origin, three countries played the biggest role in its development – Russia, Poland, and Sweden.
Vodka came to be a huge part of the Russian culture, as it was being distilled even before the word vodka came into general use. Although it has been described by many other names, the word vodka is a diminutive of the word voda; in Russia, meaning water.
In the 8th century, strong alcohol was discovered in Poland, when wine was left over during the winter to freeze; however, the solution produced was used for medicinal purposes, as opposed to drinking. It was used for these purposes up until the 15th century, when gorzalka, or burnt wine, was produced, as a result of the knowledge of distilling spirit from wine spreading to Poland. Moreover, Polish historians claim that vodka was first produced in 1405 and is said to have reached Russia from Poland.
By the first half of the 16th century, King Jan Obracht of Poland allowed the production and sales of alcohol. Later, in 1572 he limited the production and sales of alcohol to the gentry, from which a 10% tax was extracted.
It was not until the 17th century, that vodka was established as a national drink. In this period of time, Polish also started exporting their production to Northern European countries like Russia. By the 18th century, their techniques had consequently advanced, resulting in such practices as triple distillation.
The distilling techniques had significantly emerged and evolved in Russia from the 12th century to the 15th century, when distilling techniques were learned from foreigners, as honey now was used to improve the aroma and the flavor of vodka. In the 18th century, it was later discovered that charcoal was a great method to filtrate the mix, to get rid of the unnecessary by-products, even though the spirit had to be diluted before it was filtered.
Distilling techniques and strategies further improved with the introduction of different herbs and spices. In spite of the multiple vodka varieties that the Russians have been introduced to, including vodka made out of wheat and potatoes, rye was considered to produce the finest taste.
Over the years, Russia experienced problems with vodka, namely moral issues, as drunkenness became an issue. In 1917, vodka was banned from the markets and, until 1936, beverages over 20% of alcohol content could not be sold, the Russian Prohibition. Since the culture’s attitude resembled a degree of depression, the ban on vodka was removed. Drunkenness, again, became an issue with the Russian culture. Consequently, Gorbachev tried to take control of this fact, increasing prices and imposing various policies, but that only forced the Russians to take the operation underground, creating an alcoholic mix called samogon, meaning self-brew.
Currently, Polmos, the largest vodka distiller in Poland, encompasses 25 independent distilleries and holds the domestic market rights with a “no fee” license to produce the classic vodka brands.
Sweden did not play as huge a role as Russia and Poland have in the vodka movement. However, It is interesting to note that Sweden, like Poland, also used vodka for medicinal benefits, at first.
By the 16th century, vodka was officially sold as a liquor beverage. There were multiple attempts to ban its production for health reasons, judging from the condition of the Swedish culture, but it was decided that its resulting tax revenue was far more beneficial than the culture’s health.
Where ever it’s origins and whatever it’s ingredients, Vodka is sure to continue it’s rise to the top of the beverage industry in mixability, popularity and sales.
There is much speculation as to the true origin of Vodka. The Russians and the Polish peoples both lay claim to this luxury liquor. Both of these countries claim the invention of vodka. Where it originated we do not know for sure. What we do know, is that almost simultaneously… the two countries, both… contributed to what vodka is today. In North Eastern Europe as early as the 14th century, ‘Voda’ is in many Slavic languages ‘for dear little water’.
At or around the fifteenth century, this became the beverage of choice of the ‘Great Czars’ in the great lands of the Russian Republic… There came to be an affinity to this most neutral of all spirits, Vodka… or perhaps derived from the notion ‘water’ or ‘Voda’ of life. L’eau de Vie in French, it is not without friends. In the US it was virtually unknown through the 1930s. Not until after world war II did American consumers take hold of this chameleon of products.
A virtually colorless, odorless and almost tasteless alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented wheat, rye, potatoes, corn or other grain products. Primarily wheat & corn. In history, potatoes were the carbohydrate of choice for Vodka, this vegetable was what was in abundance…
but now, grains & corn are cheaper & potatoes are more difficult to harvest.
So… you begin with a carbohydrate… mash to a pulp, add yeast and ‘Presto…’ Alcohol & Co2. The Co2 is allowed to escape, leaving an alcoholic ‘brew’. This ‘brew’ is then filtered & distilled.
The distillation process removes impurities with each passing, prompting many vodka companies to ‘premium distill’ & ‘specially filter’ their vodkas over & over again for the smoothest taste. Some a ½ a dozen times. To the point where they must add water back in to come within the legal limit of alcoholic content.
The filtration processes are varied as well. Some using diatamatious earth, carbon or charcoal filtering is common even diamond dust… All in the pursuit of the cleanest yet tastiest Vodka of all. There are many… some 400 to this day. The neutral character of this spirit lends itself to the flavor of many, many mixers. The highest mixability rating of all spirits. It is no wonder the resurgence of popularity of this spirit. Vodka is the fastest growing category of all.