Unquestionably a supremely popular spirit, vodka is enjoyed around the globe thanks to its incredible versatility and, surprisingly, even its variation of flavour. Whilst typically enjoyed in the West as a means of adding spirit to mixed drinks, thanks to the superb quality and attention-to-detail found in craft vodkas produced around the world, flavoursome premium and small batch vodka is really burgeoning on the drinks scene.
As with anything universally popular, the origins of vodka are hotly disputed, though most agree that its beginnings lie either in Poland or Russia. Ancient records date vodka production in Russia centuries ago, with a number of early pharmaceutical lists referencing the “vodka of bread wine”. The earliest recorded use of the term “vodka” was in 1405, in a set of Polish court documents in which it was placed alongside medicines and cosmetics.
In Eastern Europe and the Nordic countries, vodka is traditionally consumed neat, differing from the Western world where it is usually mixed. The word itself derives from the Slavic “voda”, meaning water, etymologically linking the term with whisky (which comes from the Gaelic “uisge beatha”, the Scandinavian term akvavit from the Latin “aqua vitae” and French “eau-de-vie” - all meaning water of life). It seems that a great number of spirits from around the world were once thought to be elixirs of life, containing mystical properties.
Prior to the 1950s, vodka was very rarely drunk outside of Europe, but thanks to its easily mixed flavour profile (and appearance), by 1975 sales of vodka in America had surpassed those of bourbon.