Vodka traces its origins to the eastern region of Europe. Russia as well as Poland claim to be the first producers of vodka. The word vodka stems from voda or woda which means water in both the countries. The physical appearance of the drink may have been the reason why it was called water, or probably because it was drunk with such ease and it was almost as common as water.
Vodka is now popular around the world but it took a long while for the drink to reach the rest of the world. The spirit can be produced from a variety of agricultural materials. In the EU, vodka is mainly produced from grain or molasses while potatoes and rice are usually used for the production of vodka in Eastern European countries.
Distilleries at Khylnovsk that bear evidence of the first production of vodka date back to the 12th century although the first documented production in Russia was around the end of the 9th century. Assertions from Poland date back the history of the drink to the 8th century but the first Polish vodkas emerged during the 11th century.
The use of distilled liquor during the middle ages was primarily for medicinal purposes and for the production of gunpowder. Russia produced various qualities of vodka starting from plain to high quality. With the crude production methods used in the vodka distilleries, the drink often had impurities which were masked by the distillers by flavouring it with fruits, herbs and spices.
During the 18th century, a professor in St. Petersburg used charcoal filtration to purify the spirit. The awareness of vodka spread across many parts of Europe and production methods continued to improvise. The increasing popularity of vodka escalated the production of the spirit.
Towards the end of the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks seized all private distilleries that operated in Moscow. Emigration of the population led to many Russian vodka makers taking their recipes and skills to new places.
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One of those emigrants began production in Paris under the French version of his family name – Smirnoff. The distiller did not meet with much success in the beginning, but soon he collaborated with a Russian émigré from the USA. They set up a distillery in 1934 and the vodka produced from this distillery was sold to a US drinks company.
This is how vodka was introduced to the western world and today it is considered as one of the most versatile spirits. The ability of vodka to mix easily with a variety of drinks is the reason why you will find it in the shelves of all the pubs and bars around the world.
Top Vodka Producing Countries
Poland – The best of all Polish vodkas is Zubrowka. It is usually served with apple juice, but the spirit tastes awesome without any additions as well. Poland has seen a consistent growth in the market for vodka. The consumption and production of vodka is very high in the country. Poland predicts a growth of 1.8% in the entire spirits category between 2012 and 2017.
USA – Apart from the European countries, USA boasts of some very distinguished vodka brands. The country consumes almost 70% of the world’s premium vodka. USA produces some of the most famous flavoured and flavorless vodka. SKYY is one of the flavorless vodkas which has garnered a lot of popularity because of this flavourlessness.
Sweden – Sweden now ranks among the world’s most popular vodka producing countries. While the production output can hardly match Russia or Poland, the country produces some of the best vodka in the world. Absolut is one such Swedish brand which is acclaimed by vodka lovers around the world. Many other brands are emerging in the country to capitalize on the highly lucrative vodka markets.
Russia – The Russians stay true to their staple spirit. The country is still one of the largest markets for the production and consumption of vodka. Changes in the prices and tax laws have revitalized the black market. The country is expecting a fall in the consumption of vodka by 2017.
Vodka has become very popular and the market in which the spirit is sold has expanded. Distillers have also started experimenting with the taste of the spirit adding flavour to it using a variety of flavouring methods. While some add natural essences, many distillers choose to steep fruits and herbs in the vodka for a substantial amount of time to add flavour to the spirit. It is now one of the most versatile spirits in the world.