Vodka is a colorless distilled liquor made popular by slavic people of Eastern Europe (mainly Russians and Poles). Its origins are somewhat murky, but it is believed to have originated in either Poland or Russia (though some historians speculate that it originated in Persia). It may be distilled from any starchy plant matter—traditionally grain such as rye or wheat, but also potatoes, and sometimes even "side effects" of oil refinery. Vodka usually has an alcohol content ranging from 37 to 60% (the classic is 40%). In recent years vodka production has increased in France and Belgium where distilleries produce triple distilled vodkas that are sold at a premium over other vodkas. Today vodka is produced throughout the world; there are many American producers, and Suntory even produces a vodka in Japan.
The word vodka means "little water", a diminutive of the Slavic root voda for water. The drink was first called zhiznennia voda, or "water of life" -- unsurprising, as many European cultures have a liquor whose name means "water of life", such as the Gaelic whiskey and the Scandinavian akvavit. The first written record of vodka occured in Poland in 1405.(Thus the Polish claim to vodka)
While most of the vodka exported to the West is unflavored, the various slavic peoples make and drink a wide variety of flavored vodkas which have also become popular in the west. It has been a traditional way to make medicinal and homeopathic remedies. Flavorings include red pepper, ginger, various fruit flavors, vanilla, chocolate (without sweetener), and cinnamon. Ukrainians produce a commercial vodka that includes St John's Wort; Poless and Belarusians sometimes add the leaves of a local grassy plant called buffalo grass to the vodka which gives it a slightly sweet flavor and light amber color. In Ukraine honey flavored vodka is also very popular.
It is simple to make one's own flavored vodka. Place the fruit or other flavoring in the vodka and let sit for three days, longer for dried spices. Do not throw away the fruit as any liquid in the fruit will be replaced by the alcohol in the vodka making the fruit very alcoholic (and quite tasty!); however you may want to strain the flavored vodka and use the fruit and liquids separately. The vodka will be infused with the flavor of the fruit or spice. Some say you can soak marijuana in vodka, taking the leafy substance out after three weeks, making for a interesting drink; just remember that if you add anything to vodka make sure that it is not toxic or if it has strong medicinal effects seek the advice of a health care professional before drinking.
The most popular way of drinking vodka is cold as this brings out the flavor of the vodka; flavored vodkas are sipped, clear vodka is consumed by the shot glass in one single gulp after a toast. In the Russian Empire soldiers were known to have contests involving vodka consumption. Alcoholism has become a major problem in many slavic societies where it is often easier to obtain vodka than food. Alcohol related deaths have also soared in these slavic countries due to overconsumption of vodka.
Popular brands of vodka from various nations include:
- Absolut -- Sweden
- Finlandia -- Finland
- Grey Goose -- France
- Ketel One -- Netherlands
- Stolichnaya -- Russia
- Wyborowa -- Poland