Perceived as an essential part of Slavic identity, vodka as we know it today was strongly influenced by the technological progress of the industrial revolution. Consumed in Eastern Europe since the 15th century, it was not until the 1930s that it entered the wider world as a ‘table spirit’, following widespread use of the column still.
The main styles of vodka
These account for most of the vodkas available on the European market. No classification has really been established, although it is possible to separate and categorise them by their raw materials.
For traditional vodkas:
This is the preferred grain for the production of Polish vodkas and some Russian vodkas. The influence of rye is reflected by notes of rye bread and a mildly spicy sensation on the palate.
The most popular grain and the first choice for Russian vodkas. Wheat-based vodkas stand out for their slightly aniseedy aromatic freshness and thick, luxurious palate;
This grain is popular for its high alcohol yield and its aromas of butter and cooked corn;
The least-used grain in vodka production, originally introduced by the Finnish, it is increasingly used in the production of English vodka.
Having lost their popularity, potato vodkas are gradually making a comeback on the Polish market. They present a different, more creamy aromatic range to that of grain-based vodkas.
For modern vodkas:
- Sugar beet molasses
Used mostly in industrial vodka production;
- Other base alcohols
Some vodkas are also made from quinoa, and from grape alcohol.
These vodkas were originally produced by distillations carried out at home for recreational use, or in a medical setting for their healing properties. With a long tradition of flavoured vodka production, Russia and Poland have several hundred recipes (Krupnik, Jarzebiak, Wisniowka, Okhotnichaya etc.), the most well-known still being Zubrowska, made from bison grass. The most common aromatic flavourings for these vodkas are vanilla, ginger, chocolate, honey, cinnamon, and fruit flavours.
These flavoured vodkas can be produced in three different ways:
- by maceration
- by adding natural essences
- by redistillation
This tradition is not exclusive to Poland, Russia and the Ukraine. It is also alive and well in the Scandinavian countries, where flavoured vodkas are very popular in the summer.