Where Does Vodka Come From – Origins of Vodka

Where Does Vodka Come From – Origins of Vodka
13 July 2016

Where Does Vodka Come From – Origins of Vodka

There are few symbols as strongly associated with Russia as vodka. Recent estimates suggest that vodka constitutes around 70% of all the alcohol consumed in Russia. But how did vodka come to be this symbol of Russia?

No one is quite certain of the drink’s origins. Vodka is believed to have been first produced in Russia at the end of the 9th century. However, the oldest known vodka distillery opened two hundred years later in the town of Khylnovsk. Russia’s national drink may have first been distilled in Poland as early as the 8th century, although this may have been a distillation of wine, rather than vodka! Though its origins remain uncertain, the name is thought to originate from the slavic word for water – voda (вода).

In the middle ages vodka had a number of uses. It was frequently used for medicinal purposes, but it was also used to produce gunpowder!

Russia’s national drink

Vodka was designated as Russia’s national drink in the 14th century by a British emissary, two centuries before it held the same position in Finland and Poland. The first recorded export of vodka was in 1505 when a shipment was transported from Russia to Sweden. In the 18th century vodka production was restricted to only aristocrats as its production was considered a gift of wealth and nobility.

Vodka in the past often contained impurities and there was no standard recipe for its alcohol content. Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev is credited with finding the perfect alcohol content of vodka to be 40%. Had he not developed the periodic table for classifying elements this may have been his greatest work. However, this may well be nothing but legend, as Mendeleev’s work on alcohol doesn’t mention the 40% guideline, and more importantly, this percentage became the norm in Russia in 1843, when Mendeleev was only 9 years old.

The Tsarist government took control of vodka production in Moscow in 1901. After the Russian revolution in 1917, the Bolsheviks took over all private distilleries in Russia, causing many vodka producers to leave. One notable producer left to set up a distillery in France, taking the French version of his name, Smirnoff.  As a result, the world’s best selling vodka is not produced in Russia.

Lawrence Toye, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz Moscow

Posted by Lawrence Toye

Привет Everyone! My name is Lawrence, I’m 21, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK, and I’m pleased to say I’m the new social media intern at Liden&Denz Moscow for the next 5 weeks. This is only my first day in Moscow, so I still have so much to see and take in! I love learning languages and spent last year living in the Middle East and studying Arabic. When I started studying at politics and economics at university last September, I couldn’t resist doing a language course alongside. Even though I could’ve probably picked an easier language, I felt Russian would be the most rewarding. I was right! Despite the frequently confusing grammar, in particular the cases, I thoroughly enjoyed it. As I’ve finished university for the summer, I decided to come here to to Liden&Denz to improve my Russian, and learn more about Russian culture. This is only my first full day in Russia, and I’m really excited to write about my thoughts, insights, and experiences of Moscow and learning Russian.

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