English  |  عربي
print send to friend Help

The history of Vodka


Vodka is a traditional alcoholic drink distilled from fermented grains or potatoes. Sometimes some flavors are added. It is a clear, colorless drink and can be mixed with other drinks.

The word Vodka is derived from the Slavic word Voda, meaning “water,” then K was added and it became Vodka.

The history of vodka:

It is hard to define a precise date of the beginning of vodka manufacture because of the lack of written resources. However, vodka originated in Eastern Europe. The first production of vodka was probably in Poland in the 8th century and in another area in Russia dating back to the 9th century based on various sources.

According to Gin and Vodka Association (GVA), the first document distillation of vodka was 300 years ago in Khynovsk. However, vodka at that time was quite different in comparison to today’s vodka. The vodka of that time had different taste, color and odor, was originally used as a drug and contained little alcohol (about 14%) that can be obtained through natural fermentation.


In Poland, vodka was produced since the beginning of middle ages as a varied local tradition, like cognac in France or whisky in Scotland. The first written document mentioning the use of word “vodka” in Poland dates back to 1405 AD as it was a famous drink then. It was also used as a medical and cosmetic compound. The word “vodka” also appeared in 1533 AD as a medical compound brought from Poland to Russia by merchants. In Potanski’s book in 1614 AD, he talked about vodka and stressed its value and method of production. Krakov also wrote in his book in 1693 AD about the method of making vodka from rye grains in detail.

Mixed vodka dates back to past centuries. The most prominent types of it are Zubrowka from the 16th century, Starka from the 16th century also and Goldwasser from the 17th century. In the mid-17th century, Laschta Company monopolized the manufacture and sale of vodka gaining much profit from this franchise. Many distilleries were established by the aristocrats. The most famous of them is the one established by Princess Lubomirska that was later run by her grandson and then turned into a vodka museum in the Potoskipark. In this museum, there is the original document proving that distillation was already found in 1784 AD.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish vodka became known in the Netherlands, Denmark, England, Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria and the Black Sea basin. The early production means were primitive and distillation had to be repeated many times. Alcohol percentage was 70-80% then the percentage decreased to 40-50% when distillation is repeated.

The read production of vodka dates back to the end of the 18th century (the eastern part of Poland that was ruled by the Russian Empire then). Instead of being limited to the noble glass and the clergy, vodka became available to all people. The first industrial distillation factorywas established in 1782 followed by the Oswiecim factory in 1840. Distilleries then were built one after another.

The new techniques were started to be used in the last half of the 19th century and contributed to the production and success of clear vodka. In 1871, the first right distillation factory was established. In 1925, the new vodka was produced and monopolized by the Polish government. After WWII, all Polish distilleries were seized by the Marxian-Leninian government, and according to the martial laws of 1980, vodka sale was rationed. After the solidarity movement, several distillation factories started their work and several brands appeared.


In 1386, the Genoa ambassadors brought what was called “life elixir” or “water of life” to Moscow. This liquid was obtained through distilling grapes. According to the myth, in 1430, there was a priest called Isidore from Chudov monastery inside the Kremlin in Moscow who made the first Russian vodka recipe. He had the tools and knowledgeready for distillation, and he became the innovator of the highest-quality alcoholic drinks. At that time, vodka was called bread wine and its production was limited for a long time to Moscow and not any other empire.

The first time the word vodka was mentioned was in the Russian archives that gained its modern meaning by Emperor Elizabeth’s decree in 1751 regulating the ownership of distillation. In 1860, by the government’s decision to encourage vodka consumption, it became the favorite drink for many Russians. In 1863, the government’s monopoly of vodka production was cancelled leading to the decrease of vodka price and making it available to all people. By 1911, vodka had constituted 89% of the total alcohol consumption in Russia.

In late 1971, William Pokhlebkin, the author of a Russian cooking book, collected and wrote the history of vodka. He stressed that the word vodka was used among the common Russian long beforemid-18th century, but the word had not appeared until 1860.


Until 1950, vodka had not been used as a Swedish distilled drink, and it had been called instead Brännwin, meaning “burnt wine,” which is the basis of the word “brandy.” These drinks were produced in Sweden in the late 15th century although the gross production was still small until the 17th century. In the early 18th century, production was extended even though drinks were banned several times due to the lack of grains. Thus, potato was used and prevailed in the early 19th century. Gradually from 1960, the unflavored Swedish Brännwin was called vodka. The first Swedish product that used this name was Explorer Vodka that was made in 1958. The goal was in the beginning to export it to the US markets. In 1979, Absolut Vodka brand was launched. Vodka became a popular drink among the youth with the existence of a flourishing black market.

Method of vodka manufacture:

Vodka can be distilled from any type of sugar-free or sugar-rich plant materials. Most vodka today is produced from grains, such as white or yellow maize, barley, wheat or rye. The vodka made from wheat or rye is considered of the best types. Some types of vodka are made from potato, sugar beet, soy beans, grapes, carrot or sometimes pulp-processed wood. When making vodka from grains or potato, active enzymes should be added to the mash for breaking down the carbohydrates and turning them into fermentable sugars. When making vodka from fruit, there is no need to add enzymes as fruit contains sugars.

In some middle Europe countries, such as Poland, vodka is made through fermenting sugar and yeast solution. Currently, there is an argument between the EU countries for unifying vodka. The vodka countries insist that the products made distilled from grains or potato are the ones described as vodka according to the traditional distillation methods in production. In the US, several types of vodka are made from 95% ethanol that is produced in huge amounts by the major industrial agriculture companies: Archer Daniels Midland and Midwest Grain Processors.

Preparation and distillation method:

Whether we use one type of grain or a mixture of grains, they should first be heated until boiling, then the heat should be decreased gradually and the mixture should be left to cool down slowly. The same applies to potato and maize as they are cleaned and put in water on fire.

The mixture is then put in airtight containers and left to ferment for 3-5 days. Sometimes, pressure is controlled which helps pass leak out CO2 and preserve O2. The mixture is occasionally stirred. Sometimes, yeast is added later to the mixture and the mixture stirred and kept in a room with a temperature of 27-29°. After that, we move to the distillation process.

The mixture is then transferred to a distillery, and the temperature is raised during the distillation process to 78°. The more the mixture is heated, the more the materials vaporize and condense and the toxic and bad materials are removed. The main (first) distillation is considered responsible for directing vodka distillation. Based on that distillation, it is later determined whether there is a need for a second or third distillation. Distillation makes the ethanol level higher than acceptable; its percentage may reach 95-96%, so vodka is usually diluted with water to decrease this percentage.


There is a common property in producing vodka in the US and Europe which is filtration before adding any flavor. This process is often carried out during or after distillation through an active-coal filter or other means to absorb any unwanted flavor or taste that may change the vodka flavor. This process may also increase the vodka clarity. The countries that produce vodka as a tradition, such as Poland and Russia, do not use this technique where fine distillation is preferred to preserve the unique flavor and properties of this product.


There are some types of vodka to which other flavors are added, such as red pepper, ginger, fruit, vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon, cherry or apple flavors. In Russia, honey and pepper are added which is a very popular flavor. In Poland, bison grass is added.


Vodka is usually not left to age. After its fermentation and distillation, an alcoholic drink is produced that can be immediately bottled and sold. Vodka is considered an economical drink as it is easily made during a short period from available materials.

The most famous international vodka brands:

In addition to many flavored and unflavored types that we cannot mention all of them here.

Method of drinkin vodka:

Vodka is often drunk without any additives with some ice cubes. However, it can be drunk with the addition of fresh lemon wedges, cherry, vanilla or chocolate. Sometimes, other alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks are added, such as fruit juice, or by mixing many types of vodka together.