The term and the trade name “vodka” in its present value (solution of purified ethanol in water) was first given to the USSR with submitting alcohol standards in 1936. Prior to that, the word “vodka”, which appeared in the Russian language about XIV-XV centuries, did not have a well-defined value. “Vodka” back then usually called tincture of herbs, roots and berries based on strong alcohol.
Thus, in the history of vodka we should distinguish the history of the word “vodka” (that is, its etymology), the history of modern drink with this name and workmanship. Back in the late XIX century vodka was produced not by means of rectified alcohol dilution with water to the desired concentration – as it is now, but by means of distillation (distillation in the cube/ перегонкой в кубе) – as moonshine, whiskey, rum or tequila.
Polish word «wódka» has similar meaning to the Old Russian word “vodka” – водичка – which means “water” with soft or loving accent. <here I may puzzle my readers simply because I did not find analog in English language to translate it correctly. In Slovenian languages almost every noun may have a loving accent to it by adding a suffix “ka”.
In Poland, the first mention of the name «wódka», within the meaning of liquor, in writing, recorded in 1405 in judicial acts Sandomierz province. In Russian sources the name “vodka” in the same sense, was first mentioned in 1533. It should be noted that the origin of the name of the Polish version of vodka distributed exclusively in Poland. In the fall of 1977 there was a “case” of exclusivity in the production of vodka.
Research work of Pokhlebkin V.V. was dedicated to clarify a purely historical question (when production of vodka started in Russia, and whether it started earlier or later than in other countries) not only answered the question when production of vodka started, but also explained why this event occurred during the given period of time, and not before or after.
He answered why the word “vodka” is characteristic only of the Russian language and it does not occur anywhere else. Its occurrence in other Slavic languages can only be explained by later borrowings from Russian (no earlier than the beginning of XVI century.)
Pokhlebkin’s historic analysis replied to the question of the production of alcoholic beverages in Russia’s neighboring countries: Ukraine, Poland, Sweden and Germany.
This given date coincided with the same date published in international arbitration of other foreign researchers
Polish representatives were not able to prove that “gozhalka/ гожалка » («gorzałka» – the original name of vodka in Poland) was created before the middle of XVI century.
Pokhlebkin presented facts that moved the date of birth of vodka in the Kingdom of Poland (what is now Ukraine), even for one and a half decades earlier than the date specified by Polish, that is, the 1540’s, but still, this date was much late (almost a hundred years) than the date of creation of vodka in Russia.
Based on Pokhlebkin’s work international arbitration admitted priority of vodka as Russian original alcoholic beverage in 1982. Soviet Union was given an exclusive right to its advertising under this name in the global market with exclusive export slogan – «Only vodka from Russia is genuine Russian vodka»
The official Russian document, the word “vodka” first appeared June 8, 1751 in the decree of Empress Elizabeth I «Who is allowed to have cubes for doubling of vodka.” But even after this official document for a long time vodka was inoffensively called as “warm, simple, table wine”, “полугар/пенник”, or simply “moonshine”. In Russian literature, word vodka was introduced by Alexander Pushkin. The heroes in “Eugene Onegin” drink “anisette vodka/ анисовая настойка”.
The prototype of vodka was produced in the X century by Persian physician Al-Razi, who allocated ethanol by distillation. In Poland, the technology of distillation of alcohol came, most likely, from the Holy Roman Empire in the XIV century. Pokhlebkin mentions that the process of distilling was well developed in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – the medieval heart of смолокурения (translated as vodka manufacturing).
How then the tincture of herbs based on strong alcohol became what is known today as Russian vodka? In Russian empire makers of vodka were not consistent in percentage of alcohol – it could be from 30% to even 70%. Most likely, after Russian scientist Mendeleev D.I. (yes, the same person who initiated and structured Periodic table for chemistry industry) discovered that highest compression can only be in the solution with a concentration of alcohol of about 46%. He was very close to that ratio of 40% which is used in today’s Russian vodka. It is possible that this ratio started used in the manufacturing of vodka since this discovery. The process of Russian vodka was evolved and Russian government issued a law in 1894 under which vodka should reach the consumer only at 40-degree, at least – 38 degrees. Otherwise vodka makers would face Criminal Responsibility.
Here is very interesting article from the Russian Vodka Museum. You will see interesting pictures and it is all written in English.
My favorite vodka is Russian Standard which comes in Silver, Gold and Platinum packages. My favorite is Platinum but I can only buy it in Duty-Free stores. Silver and Gold is always can be found in LCBO.
I also like Smirnoff vodka which is also can be bought in any LCBO store.
Russian Standard Gold is close by smoothness to Smirnoff’s vodka.
Another brand is Stolichnaya or Stoli.
Looks like it comes in different flavors (not my favorite).
Here is one of Polish vodkas. Since it is 40% it is based on Russian recipe. (otherwise it should be called “gorzałka” with whatever final degree of alcohol like in old days 600 years ago. If the production of this vodka is based on rectified alcohol dilution with water (the process described by Mendeleev) then it is for sure Russian vodka made in Poland.
To finish this article: the Russian word of this alcohol is “Vodka” not “Wodka”. The 600-year process of tincture of herbs, roots and berries based on strong alcohol evolved into rectifying alcohol dilution with water having 40% of alcohol. This chemical process was discovered by Mendeleev and latter improved in Russia. I guess, Russians just don’t care much about the branding of this word and product. For example, French vodka, always puzzles me.
French folks do not allow using their word “koniak” even though Armenians invented this alcohol first! I must be missing something here. Should not countries that produce this type of alcohol use their original names? Polish folks should be using gorzeć; Ukrainian – horilka; Swedish – brännvin. What do you think?
Here is another side of the same story:
In reality word vodka did not originate from water, but from the name of the people Vod. Today, this nation has in its composition: 82 people, 73 of whom live in the Russian Federation, and nine live in vast freestyle Estonia. But in the old days Vod was so large that the name of the whole nation has been named administrative unit Novgorod Vodskaya Pyatina.
I shell stop right here and will translate you this article when I have time. I will translate some portion for your judgement:
At the time, vodka was not at all like the water, and because it would be absurd to deduce the origin of its name from the water. Bread wine was a cloudy liquid, and in fact, was what now is moonshine. Only in 1789, the St. Petersburg chemist Tobias Lowitz proposed use charcoal to clean vodka of fusel oils, then vodka and become transparent. Term vodka appeared almost simultaneously with the appearance of such, but before June 8, 1751 name was not official, and vodka in the documents was called bread wine.
I will also translate this article that shades light on the origin of word vodka (indeed this word was not used in Slovenian languages except Russian). I would like to hear input from brother-sister slovenians other then russians and proving that I’m wrong here.
More articles in English:
Other articles in russian: