Vodka: A History

Vodka is a distilled beverage composed primarily of water and ethanol, often served with different flavorings. Traditionally, vodka is made through the distillation of cereal grains or potatoes that have been fermented, though some modern brands, such as Ciroc, Cooranbong, and Bombora, use fruits or sugar. Since the 1890s, the standard Polish, Russian, Belarusian, Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Slovak, Swedish and Ukrainian vodkas are 40% ABV or alcohol by volume.
Meanwhile, the European Union has established a minimum of 37.5% ABV for any “European vodka” to be named as such. Products sold as “vodka” in the United States must have a minimum alcohol content of 40%. Even with these loose restrictions, most vodka sold contains 40% ABV. People usually have Vodka “neat” (not mixed with water, ice, or other mixers), though it is often served freezer chilled in the vodka belt countries of Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Lithuania, Latvia, Norway, Poland, and Russia. It is also used in cocktails and mixed drinks, such as the Vodka martini and Cosmopolitan. Even James Bond likes his Martinis “shaken & not stirred.”

According to Wikipedia, The word vodka was recorded for the first time in 1405 in Akta Grodzkie, the court documents from the Palatinate of Sandomierz in Poland. At the time, wódka referred to medicines and cosmetic products, while the beverage was called gorzałka (from the Old Polish gorzeć meaning “to burn”), which is also the source of Ukrainian horilka. The word vodka written in Cyrillic appeared first in 1533, in relation to a medicinal drink brought from Poland to Russia by the merchants of Kievan Rus’.
Although the word vodka could be found in early manuscripts and in lubok pictograms, it began to appear in Russian dictionaries only in the mid-19th century. It was attested in Sámuel Gyarmathi’s Russian-German-Hungarian glossary of 1799, where it is glossed with Latin vinum adustum.

A type of distilled liquor designated by the Russian word vodka came to Russia in the late 14th century. In 1386, the Genoese ambassadors brought the first aqua vitae to Moscow and presented it to Grand Duke Dmitry Donkey. The liquid obtained by distillation of grape must have thought to be a concentrate and a “spirit” of wine from where came the name of this substance in many European languages. According to a legend, around 1430, a monk named Isadora from Chador Monastery inside the Moscow Kremlin made a recipe of the first Russian vodka. Having special knowledge and distillation devices, he became the creator of a new, higher quality type of alcoholic beverage. This “bread wine”, as it was initially known, was for a long time produced exclusively in the Grand Duchy of Moscow and in no other principality of Rus’.

Thus, this beverage was closely associated with Moscow. Vodka can also be used in cooking and various recipes are improved by the addition of vodka or rely on it as a key ingredient. Interestingly, Vodka sauce is a pasta sauce made from tomato sauce, cream, and vodka that apparently gained popularity in the 1970s. Vodka can be used in baking as a substitute for water: pie crusts can be made flakier with vodka. It may be used in seafood dishes as well.

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