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Vodka museum, Mandrogi, Russia.


Vodka is a distilled liquor composed solely of water and ethyl alcohol with possible traces of impurities and flavorings. Vodka is made from a fermented substance of either grain, rye, wheat, potatoes, or sugar beet molasses.

Vodka’s alcoholic content usually ranges between 35 to 50 per cent by volume; the standard Russianmarker, Lithuanianmarker, and Polishmarker vodkas are 40 per cent alcohol by volume (80 proof).

Historically, this alcoholic-proof standard derives from the Russian vodka quality standards established by Tsar Alexander III in 1894. The Muscovitemarker Vodka Museum reports that chemist Dmitri Mendeleev determined the ideal proof as 38 per cent; however because in that time distilled spirits were taxed per their alcoholic strength, that percentage was rounded upwards to 40 per cent for simplified taxation calculations.

For such a liquor to be denominated “vodka,” governments establish a minimal alcoholic proof; the European Union established 37.5 percent alcohol by volume as the minimal proof for European vodka. Although vodka is traditionally drunk neat in the vodka beltEastern Europe and the Nordic countries — its popularity, elsewhere, derives from its neutral spirit usefulness in cocktails and mixed drinks, such as the bloody Mary, the screwdriver, the White Russian, the vodka tonic, and the vodka martini.

Etymology

The name "vodka" is a diminutive form of the Russian word voda (water), interpreted as little water: root вод- (vod-) [water] + -к- (-k-) [ diminutive suffix, among other functions]) + -a [ postfix of feminine gender ].

The word "wodka" was recorded for the first time in 1405 in the court documents from the Palatinate of Sandomierz in Poland; at these times the word referred to medicines and cosmetics. A number of Russian pharmaceutical lists contain the terms "vodka of bread wine" (водка хлебного вина vodka khlebnogo vina) and "vodka in half of bread wine" (водка полу хлебного вина vodka polu khlebnogo vina). As alcohol had long been used as a basis for medicines, this implies that the term vodka could be a noun derived from the verb vodit’, razvodit’ (водить, разводить), "to dilute with water".

Bread wine was a spirit distilled from alcohol made from grain (as opposed to grape wine) and hence "vodka of bread wine" would be a water dilution of a distilled grain spirit.

While the word could be found in manuscripts and in lubok (лубок, pictures with text explaining the plot, a Russian predecessor of the comic), it began to appear in Russian dictionaries in the mid-19th century.

Another possible connection of "vodka" with "water" is the name of the medieval alcoholic beverage aqua vitae (Latin, literally, "water of life"), which is reflected in Polish "okowita", Ukrainian оковита, or Belarusian акавіта. (Note that whisky has a similar etymology, from the Irish/Scottish Gaelic uisce beatha/uisge-beatha.)

People in the area of vodka's probable origin have names for vodka with roots meaning "to burn": ; , horilka; ; ; ; Samogitian: degtėnė, is also in use, colloquially and in proverbs); ; . In Russian during 17th and 18th century горящее вино (goryashchee vino, "burning wine") was widely used. Compare to Danish; brændevin; ; ; (although the latter terms refer to any strong alcoholic beverage).

Another Slavic/Baltic archaic term for hard liquors was "green wine" (Russian: zelyonoye vino, Lithuanian: žalias vynas).

History

The origins of vodka cannot be traced definitively, but it is believed to have originated in the grain-growing region that now embraces Polandmarker, western Russiamarker, Belarusmarker, Lithuaniamarker, Ukrainemarker. It also has a long tradition in Scandinavia.

For many centuries beverages contained little alcohol. It is estimated that the maximum amount was about 14% as only this amount is reachable by means of natural fermentation. The still allowing for distillation – the "burning of wine" – was invented in the 8th century.

Poland

In Polandmarker, vodka ( ) has been produced since the early Middle Ages.In these early days, the spirits were used mostly as medicines. Stefan Falimierz asserted in his 1534 works on herbs that vodka could serve "to increase fertility and awaken lust". Around 1400 it became also a popular drink in Poland. Wódka lub gorzała (1614), by Jerzy Potański, contains valuable information on the production of vodka. Jakub Kazimierz Haur, in his book Skład albo skarbiec znakomitych sekretów ekonomii ziemiańskiej (A Treasury of Excellent Secrets about Landed Gentry's Economy, Kraków, 1693), gave detailed recipes for making vodka from rye.

Some Polish vodka blends go back centuries. Most notable are Żubrówka, from about the 16th century; Goldwasser, from the early 17th; and aged Starka vodka, from the 16th. In the mid-17th century, the szlachta (nobility) were granted a monopoly on producing and selling vodka in their territories. This privilege was a source of substantial profits. One of the most famous distilleries of the aristocracy was established by Princess Lubomirska and later operated by her grandson, Count Alfred Wojciech Potocki. The Vodka Industry Museum, now housed at the headquarters of Count Potocki's distillery, has an original document attesting that the distillery already existed in 1784. Today it operates as "Polmos Łańcut."

Large-scale vodka production began in Poland at the end of the 16th century, initially at Krakówmarker, whence spirits were exported to Silesia before 1550. Silesian cities also bought vodka from Poznańmarker, a city that in 1580 had 498 working spirits distilleries. Soon, however, Gdańskmarker outpaced both these cities. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Polish vodka was known in the Netherlandsmarker, Denmarkmarker, Englandmarker, Russiamarker, Germanymarker, Austriamarker, Hungarymarker, Romaniamarker, Ukrainemarker, Bulgariamarker and the Black Seamarker basin.

Early production methods were primitive. The beverage was usually low-proof, and the distillation process had to be repeated several times (a three-stage distillation process was common). The first distillate was called "brantówka," the second—"szumówka," the third—"okowita" (from "aqua vitae"), which generally contained 70–80% alcohol by volume. Then the beverage was watered down, yielding a simple vodka (30–35%), or a stronger one if the watering was done using an alembic. The exact production methods were described in 1768 by Jan Paweł Biretowski and in 1774 by Jan Chryzostom Simon. The beginning of the 19th century inaugurated the production of potato vodka, which immediately revolutionized the market.

The end of the 18th century marked the start of the vodka industry in Poland (eastern part of Poland was part of Russian empire at that time). Vodkas produced by the nobility and clergy became a mass product. The first industrial distillery was opened in 1782 in Lwówmarker by J. A. Baczewski. He was soon followed by Jakub Haberfeld, who in 1804 established a factory at Oświęcimmarker, and by Hartwig Kantorowicz, who started producing Wyborowa in 1823 at Poznańmarker. The implementation of new technologies in the second half of the 19th century, which allowed the production of clear vodkas, contributed to their success. The first rectification distillery was established in 1871. In 1925 the production of clear vodkas was made a Polish government monopoly.

After World War II, all vodka distilleries were taken over by Poland's communist government. During the 1980s, the sale of vodka was rationed. After the victory of the Solidarity movement, all distilleries were privatized, leading to an explosion of brands.

Russia



Encyclopedia Britannica writes that the name "vodka" is a derogatory of the Russian voda or Polish woda (“water”). It was not originally called vodka — instead, the term bread wine (хлебное вино; khlebnoye vino) was used. Until mid-18th century, it remained relatively low on alcohol content, not exceeding 40% by volume. It was mostly sold in taverns and was quite expensive. At the same time, the word vodka was already in use, but it described herbal tinctures (similar to absinthe), containing up to 75% by volume alcohol, and made for medicinal purposes.

The first written usage of the word vodka in an official Russian document in its modern meaning is dated by the decree of Empress Elizabeth of June 8, 1751, which regulated the ownership of vodka distilleries. The taxes on vodka became a key element of government finances in Tsarist Russia, providing at times up to 40% of state revenue. By the 1860s, due to the government policy of promoting consumption of state-manufactured vodka, it became the drink of choice for many Russians. In 1863, the government monopoly on vodka production was repealed, causing prices to plummet and making vodka available even to low-income citizens. By 1911, vodka comprised 89% of all alcohol consumed in Russia. This level has fluctuated somewhat during the 20th century, but remained quite high at all times. The most recent estimates put it at 70% (2001). Today, some popular Russian vodka producers or brands are (amongst others) Stolichnaya and Russian Standard.

Ukraine

Horilka ( ) is the Ukrainian term for "vodka", the word came from Ukrainian "горіти" means - "to burn". Horilka may also be used in a generic sense in the Ukrainian language to mean moonshine, whisky or other strong spirits. Among East Slavic peoples, the term horilka is used to stress the Ukrainian origin of a vodka, for example, in Nikolai Gogol's historic novel Taras Bulba: "and bring us a lot of horilka, but not of that fancy kind with raisins, or with any other such things—bring us horilka of the purest kind, give us that demon drink that makes us merry, playful and wild!".

A pertsivka or horilka z pertsem (pepper vodka) is a vodka with whole fruits of capsicum put into the bottle, turning horilka into a sort of bitters. Horilkas are also often made with honey, mint, or even milk, the latter not typical of vodkas of other origins. Some claim that horilka is considered stronger and spicier than typical Russian vodka.

Today

Vodka is now one of the world's most popular spirits. It was rarely consumed outside Europe before the 1950s. By 1975, vodka sales in the United Statesmarker overtook those of bourbon, previously the most popular hard liquor and the native spirit of the country. In the second half of the 20th century, vodka owed its popularity in part to its reputation as an alcoholic beverage that "leaves you breathless", as one ad put it — no smell of liquor remains detectable on the breath, and its neutral flavor allows it to be mixed into a wide variety of drinks, often replacing other liquors (particularly Gin) in traditional drinks, such as the Martini.

According to The Penguin Book of Spirits and Liqueurs, "Its low level of fusel oils and congeners — impurities that flavour spirits but that can contribute to the after-effects of heavy consumption — led to its being considered among the 'safer' spirits, though not in terms of its powers of intoxication, which, depending on strength, may be considerable."

Russian culinary author William Pokhlebkin compiled a history of the production of vodka in Russia during the late 1970s as part of the Sovietmarker case in a trade dispute; this was later published as A History of Vodka. Pokhlebkin claimed that while there was a wealth of publications about the history of consumption and distribution of vodka, virtually nothing had been written about vodka production. Among his assertions were that the word "vodka" was used in popular speech in Russia considerably earlier than the middle of the 18th century, but the word did not appear in print until the 1860s.

In 2009 Russian scientists revealed that after experimenting with vodka, they developed a method to turn alcohol into a powder and pill. Earlier it was reported that sparkling vodka was introduced in Great Britainmarker.

Production

Vodka may be distilled from any starch/sugar-rich plant matter; most vodka today is produced from grains such as sorghum, corn, rye or wheat. Among grain vodkas, rye and wheat vodkas are generally considered superior. Some vodka is made from potatoes, molasses, soybeans, grapes, sugar beets and sometimes even byproducts of oil refining or wood pulp processing. In some Central European countries like Poland some vodka is produced by just fermenting a solution of crystal sugar and yeast. In the European Union there are talks about the standardization of vodka, and the Vodka Belt countries insist that only spirits produced from grains, potato and sugar beet molasses be allowed to be branded as "vodka", following the traditional methods of production.

Distilling and filtering

A common property of vodkas produced in the United States and Europe is the extensive use of filtration prior to any additional processing, such as the addition of flavourants. Filtering is sometimes done in the still during distillation, as well as afterwards, where the distilled vodka is filtered through charcoal and other media. This is because under U.S. and European law vodka must not have any distinctive aroma, character, colour or flavour. However, this is not the case in the traditional vodka producing nations, so many distillers from these countries prefer to use very accurate distillation but minimal filtering, thus preserving the unique flavours and characteristics of their products.

The "stillmaster" is the person in charge of distilling the vodka and directing its filtration. When done correctly, much of the "fore-shots" and "heads" and the "tails" separated in distillation process are discarded. These portions of the distillate contain flavour compounds such as ethyl acetate and ethyl lactate (heads) as well as the fusel oils (tails) that alter the clean taste of vodka. Through numerous rounds of distillation, or the use of a fractioning still, the taste of the vodka is improved and its clarity is enhanced. In some distilled liquors such as rum and baijiu, some of the heads and tails are not removed in order to give the liquor its unique flavour and mouth-feel.

Repeated distillation of vodka will make its ethanol level much higher than is acceptable to most end users, whether legislation determines strength limits or not. Depending on the distillation method and the technique of the stillmaster, the final filtered and distilled vodka may have as much as 95-96% ethanol. As such, most vodka is diluted with water prior to bottling. This level of distillation is what truly separates a rye-based vodka (for example) from a rye whisky; while the whisky is generally only distilled down to its final alcohol content, vodka is distilled until it is almost totally pure alcohol and then cut with water to give it its final alcohol content and unique flavour, depending on the source of the water.

Flavouring

Apart from the alcoholic content, vodkas may be classified into two main groups:clear vodkas and flavoured vodkas. From the latter ones, one can separate bitter tinctures, such as Russian Yubileynaya (anniversary vodka) and Pertsovka (pepper vodka).

While most vodkas are unflavoured, many flavoured vodkas have been produced in traditional vodka-drinking areas, often as home-made recipes to improve vodka's taste or for medicinal purposes. Flavourings include red pepper, ginger, fruit flavours, vanilla, chocolate (without sweetener), and cinnamon. In Russia and Ukrainemarker, vodka flavoured with honey and pepper (Pertsovka, in Russian, Z pertsem, in Ukrainian) is also very popular. Ukrainians produce a commercial vodka that includes St John's Wort. Poles and Belarusians add the leaves of the local bison grass to produce Żubrówka (Polish) and Zubrovka (Belarusian) vodka, with slightly sweet flavour and light amber colour. In Poland, a famous vodka containing honey is called Krupnik. In the United States bacon vodka has been introduced.

This tradition of flavouring is also prevalent in the Nordic countries, where vodka seasoned with herbs, fruits and spices is the appropriate strong drink for midsummer seasonal festivities. In Swedenmarker, there are forty-odd common varieties of herb-flavoured vodka (kryddat brännvin). In Poland there is a separate category, nalewka, for vodka-based spirits with fruit, root, flower, or herb extracts, which are often home-made or produced by small commercial distilleries. Its alcohol content is between 15 to 75%.

The Poles make a very pure (95%, 190 proof) rectified spirit (Polish language: spirytus rektyfikowany). Technically a form of vodka, it is sold in liquor stores, not pharmacies. Similarly, the German market often carries German, Hungarian, Polish, and Ukrainian-made varieties of vodka of 90 to 95% alcohol content. A Bulgarianmarker vodka, Balkan 176°, is 88% alcohol.

Other processing

Due to the low freezing point of alcohol, vodka can be stored in ice or a freezer without any crystallization of water. In countries where alcohol levels are generally low (the USA for example, due to alcohol taxes varying with alcohol content), individuals sometimes increase the alcohol percentage by a form of freeze distillation.

If the alcohol level is low enough and the freezer cold enough (significantly below the freezing point of water), solid crystals will form which are mostly water (actually a dilute solution of alcohol). If these "ice" crystals are removed, the remaining vodka will be enriched in alcohol.

Vodka and the EU

The recent success of grape-based vodka in the United Statesmarker has prompted traditional vodka producers in the Vodka Belt countries of Polandmarker, Finlandmarker, Lithuaniamarker and Swedenmarker to campaign for EU legislation that will categorize only spirits made from grain or potatoes as "vodka" rather than spirits made from any ethyl alcohol – provided, for example, by apples and grapes. This proposition has provoked heavy criticism from south European countries, which often distill used mash from wine-making into spirits; although higher quality mash is usually distilled into some variety of pomace brandy, lower-quality mash is better turned into a neutral-flavoured spirits instead. Any vodka then not made from either grain or potatoes would have to display the products used in its production. This regulation was adopted by the European Parliamentmarker on June 19, 2007.

Health

Vodka as with any alcohol consumed in sufficient amounts can be lethal by inducing respiratory failure and/or unguarded inhalation of vomit by a comatose drunk person. In addition, the effects of alcohol are responsible for many traumatic injuries such as falls and vehicle accidents. Excessive consumption of any alcoholic beverage above approximately 1% ABV can cause dehydration, digestive irritation, and other symptoms associated with a hangover, and the chronic effects can include liver failure due to cirrhosis, and it is associated with many GI cancers (particularly oral cavity). These are inherent properties of ethanol. Methanol, fusel oils, (other alcohols) and esters can contribute to hangovers by altering the subjective experience - ice water in veins - hot and cold flushes - headaches - sore eyes etc. All alcoholic drinks produce a subtly different hangover experience according to the congeners present. Pure vodka and gin when consumed with sufficient water are least likely to produce bad hangovers for this reason.

In some countries black-market vodka or "bathtub" vodka is widespread because it can be produced easily and avoid taxation. However, severe poisoning, blindness, or death can occur as a result of dangerous industrial ethanol substitutes being added by black-market producers. In March 2007, BBC News UK made a documentary to find the cause of severe jaundice among imbibers of a "bathtub" vodka in Russia. The cause was suspected to be an industrial disinfectant (Extrasept) - 95% ethanol but also containing a highly toxic chemical - added to the vodka by the illegal traders because of its high alcohol content and low price. Death toll estimates list at least 120 dead and more than 1,000 poisoned. The death toll is expected to rise due to the chronic nature of the cirrhosis that is causing the jaundice.

See also



Notes

References

  • Begg, Desmond. The Vodka Companion: A Connoisseur's Guide. Running: 1998. ISBN 0-7624-0252-0.
  • Pokhlebkin, William and Clarke, Renfrey (translator). A History of Vodka. Verso: 1992. ISBN 0-86091-359-7.
  • Delos, Gilbert. Vodkas of the World. Wellfleet: 1998. ISBN 0-7858-1018-8.
  • Lingwood, William, and Ian Wisniewski. Vodka: Discovering, Exploring, Enjoying. Ryland, Peters, & Small: 2003. ISBN 1-84172-506-4.
  • Price, Pamela Vandyke. The Penguin Book of Spirits and Liqueurs. Penguin Books, 1980. Chapter 8 is devoted to vodka.
  • Broom, Dave. Complete Book of Spirits and Cocktails, Carlton Books Ltd: 1998. ISBN 1-85868-485-4
  • Faith, Nicholas and Ian Wisniewski Classic Vodka, Prion Books Ltd.: 1977. ISBN 1-85375-234-7
  • Rogala, Jan. Gorzałka czyli historia i zasady wypalania mocnych trunków, Baobab: 2004. ISBN 83-89642-70-0


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