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Vodka bottles of various brands in the Vodka Museum in Verkhniye Mandrogi

Vodka (from the Slavic , Polish wódka or Russian водка vodka ; diminutive of woda 'water' , so little water ') is a usually colorless liquor with an alcohol content of ideally 40 percent by volume . It is characterized by its almost neutral taste and the lack of any fusel oils , artificial flavors or other fermented substances. It is either drunk pure or mixed in cocktails .

Word origin

The word vodka comes from the Slavic languages. It is a diminutive of the Polish word woda or the Russian word вода for 'water'. The spirit used to be called Wutka in German , which comes closest to the Polish pronunciation ( wódka ). Today's German spelling and pronunciation is most similar to the Lower Sorbian language ( vodka ) or, for example, the Czech pronunciation ( vodka ).


Start of grain distillation

According to written records, the first vodka was distilled in the former Kingdom of Poland in Sandomierz in 1405. This has a traditional distillation process that is still used in Poland today. There is a high probability that today's type of vodka production developed evolutionarily and thanks to the high abundance of rye in agrarian countries such as Poland or Russia. The early vodka was only about half as strong as today's.

Vodka from the 16th to the 19th centuries

From the 16th to the 18th century, vodka in Russia was only allowed to be sold in taverns that had been approved by the tsar . However, since this principle did not work, Tsar Peter the Great finally released vodka production, but left it taxed. Catherine II restricted the production rights again and only aristocrats and state-owned companies were allowed to officially manufacture the spirit. The potato emerged as a raw material in the 19th century and cheap brandies flooded the Eastern European market. At the end of the 19th century, the state monopoly for production was reintroduced in Russia. It is unclear whether the chemist and developer of the periodic table , Dmitri Mendeleev , is also the "inventor" of the "modern" vodka. What is known, however, is that he introduced the unit of measurement for vodka, grams, because the so-called “stopka”, the traditional vodka glass, holds 100 grams. Although he wrote his doctoral thesis on the subject of the connection between water and ethanol, he only discussed mixing ratios from 70% ethanol.

The oldest branded vodka is Wyborowa , which has been produced in Poznan , Poland since 1823 , and which was also exported to other Western European countries from 1873. Starting in 1874, the experimental and teaching institute for alcohol production of the Association of Alcohol Manufacturers in Germany developed the first German vodka brand, Adler vodka.

Vodka producers with a long tradition include Poles, Russians and Ukrainians as well as Swedes and Finns . In addition, grain brandies very similar to vodka were popular in northern Germany . In other nations this spirit was completely unknown to the general public at the end of the 19th century. In Western Europe, vodka was only valued by aristocrats as a rare Eastern European specialty.

Vodka in the 20th century

When the First World War broke out in 1914, the Russian Tsar Nicholas II banned the serving and sale of vodka. This led to a drop in government revenues by a third. As a result, illicit distilleries flourished everywhere. When the Winter Palace was attacked in the course of the October Revolution , the Tsar's stocks of alcohol were also plundered.

The Bolsheviks completely banned the production and sale of all types of alcohol, but had to relinquish this ban in 1925 for fiscal reasons. Under Stalin, a considerable part of the state budget was financed from the state monopoly on vodka. In World War II vodka rations for the soldiers of the Red Army introduced.

Due to the temporary prohibition in Russia, numerous manufacturers of vodka emigrated after the October Revolution and brought the production of vodka to Western Europe, North America and even to New Zealand. Initially only consumed in exiled Russian communities, vodka became a global drink due to the cocktail boom from the 1950s onwards. Former Russian-exile companies such as Smirnoff and Gorbachev turned into global brands, as did new western brands such as Pushkin , a daughter of Berentzen .

There were years in the Soviet Union in the 1980s when Yuri Andropov and Mikhail Gorbachev severely restricted vodka production. The anti-alcohol campaign Gorbachev led to a flowering of black distilleries and a rapid increase in cases of alcohol poisoning . Under the government of Boris Yeltsin , vodka production was reopened in Russia at the beginning of the 1990s, the state monopoly was lifted and the number of vodka brands grew considerably, partly in cooperation with western spirits companies.

raw materials

Vodka can be made from various raw materials that contain carbohydrates . Grains are mostly used, but potatoes and molasses are also common. In most countries there are no special restrictions on the possible raw materials for vodka, as long as these are generally approved for the production of spirits. For example, in Australia, Italy, France and the United States, vodka is sometimes made from grapes.

Demands for the purity law

Poland and several northern European countries are demanding that real vodka should only be made from potatoes, grain and, if necessary, molasses. Such a purity law already exists in Russia and the Ukraine. These two countries are the largest vodka producers in the world (ahead of the EU). However, on January 30, 2007, the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety of the European Parliament agreed on the proposal of the German CDU member Horst Schnellhardt that other substances may be used when distilling vodka. However, the original material must be included in the name.


The traditional grain for vodka production in Eastern Europe is still rye today . Vodka made from it tastes lovely, soft, mild, slightly sweet; therefore it is considered the best raw material. In western countries wheat is often used, and in Scandinavia barley is also used in some cases . Other types of grain, such as corn or rice, are not traditional raw materials and are rarely used, although rice has recently become popular with some Asian vodka manufacturers that are relatively unknown in Europe.


Potatoes have been used since the 19th century. The taste of the vodka made from it is usually heavier and sweeter than that of the vodka distilled from wheat. Vodkas are made from potatoes, especially in Poland and Ukraine.


Molasses - a by-product of sugar production - is considered the cheapest and lowest quality raw material for vodka. The taste of the vodka made from it is usually a little sweeter than that of grain vodka. The use of this raw material is both in the sugar cane-growing countries and in some European countries such. B. Germany or the Czech Republic. Vodkas made from this almost always belong to the lower price segment.


Vodka bottling plant
Historic vodka still

The first step in making vodka is very similar to that of brewing beer . One begins with the production of the so-called mash , the mixing of the respective raw material, i.e. ground and malted grain or chopped potatoes, with water, with potatoes additionally still enzymes z. B. must be added from malt. When the malt is then heated, the enzymes contained in the malt (especially amylase ) become active and break down the starch molecules. Yeast is added to the now sweet mash (the wort) to start fermentation. During fermentation , the sugar in the mash is converted into alcohol, up to a content of 6 to 7 percent alcohol by volume. Then the actual burning takes place, whereby the so-called raw alcohol is obtained. The firing process is repeated in stages to improve the product quality. The burning process takes place continuously, while the mashing takes place in batches .

In order to make the vodka as tasteless as possible, the distillate is then filtered. Accompanying aromas are removed, especially the so-called fusel oils . To do this, the liquid is pumped through columns with activated carbon , which binds the undesired substances to itself. The distillate can also be cleaned biologically through milk protein, through freezing and precipitation of impurities, and electrically. Finally, the remaining suspended particles are separated off with the help of very fine-pored filtration systems. The cleaned vodka consists almost entirely of water and ethanol . This neutralization of the taste through a filter process differentiates the vodka from the grain brandy . The quality of the filter process is decisive for the remaining taste of the end product and thus also its price. Cheaper products can still contain residues of fusel oil.

Maturation after distillation is not necessary. Storage until bottling takes place in glass, stone or stainless steel tanks. In a final step, the vodka is mixed with water to drink strength; in Germany it is usually 37.5 or 40% vol. Traditionally, vodka has had 40% vol. alcohol since Mendeleev. However, modern brands fluctuate between 37.5% (e.g. Smirnoff) and 56% (Krepkaya), with varieties drunk undiluted usually not exceeding 45% vol. The water is usually also filtered before being added, and with premium brands it is further refined. Then the vodka is bottled.

In addition to pure or pure vodkas, flavored vodkas are now also produced by making the distillate or pure vodka with fruits, spices, extracts or essences or adding aromatic oils. The most common flavorings are the types of lemon or lemon and black currant (often English Black Currant ), which are now available from many major brand manufacturers.

Vodka vessels

Small Russian vodka bottles

Vodka is commonly sold in bottles. In Poland, vodka is available in 0.20 l bottles (adapted to EU standards, previously 0.25 l) in 0.5, 0.7 and, more rarely, 1 l bottles. In Russia, in addition to the usual 0.5 l bottles, it is also sold in small 0.25 l bottles. There are also small glasses with disposable closures. For a while there were plastic cups with a capacity of 0.1 l in Russia, but these disappeared again from the market because the alcohol released harmful substances from the plastic. In Germany, 0.7 and 1 l bottles are mostly sold, the latter usually in wholesalers and duty-free shops.


The "vodka belt". Vodka is the most consumed in Northern and Eastern Europe compared to the rest of the world.
Shelf with vodka in a Ukrainian grocery store

In Poland, as in Russia, vodka is usually consumed as part of a long meal. Usually a lot of small cold or warm dishes, such as pickled mushrooms , pickled cucumbers, meatballs, mashed potatoes, rye bread and butter, sour (not too sweet) fruit, etc., are distributed over a table, and everyone eats something while drinking a vodka in between becomes. Also very often half a lemon wedge is included, similar to tequila . Traditionally, the glasses hold about one hundred grams of vodka (about 0.1 liters), five times as much as German shot glasses. However, since the end of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, these traditional glasses have gradually been replaced by shot glasses of the western type. While drinking, you hold your breath and drink the glass in one gulp, then you breathe out deeply and eat something. Drinking vodka without company is frowned upon in Russia and Poland and is considered a sign of alcoholism .

In the traditional manufacturing countries, vodka is often drunk neat and at room temperature. In western countries, vodka is also often used to mix cocktails and long drinks . For example, vodka is mixed with orange juice (“ screwdriver ”), other fruit juices or lemonades. Due to its neutral taste, it is essential for the preparation of a Bloody Mary . The Moscow Mule cocktail developed in the USA contributed to a large extent to the success of vodka in the USA from the 1950s onwards.


  • Desmond Begg: Vodka. The manual for connoisseurs . (= Evergreen ). Taschen, Cologne 2000, ISBN 3-8228-6010-7 .
  • Sonja Margolina : Vodka. Drinking and Power in Russia . wjs, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-937989-03-X .
  • Mark Lawrence Schrad: Vodka Politics. Alcohol, Autocracy and the Secret History of the Russian State . Oxford University Press, New York City 2014.
  • Matthias Marzec: Vodka's Greatest Hits . LuLu, Raleigh NC 2007, ISBN 978-1-84753-076-9 .
  • Aleksandr Nikischin: Vodka i Stalin. Wsja Rossija, Moscow 2006.
  • Aleksandr Nikischin: Vodka i Gorbachev. Wsja Rossija, Moscow 2007, ISBN 978-5-93668-006-9

Web links

Wiktionary: Vodka  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Category: Vodka  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Friedrich Kluge: Etymological dictionary of the German language . 24th edition. 2002, ISBN 3-11-017473-1 , p. 995.
  2. Regulation (EC) No. 110/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of January 15, 2008 , Appendix II, 15. Vodka (see also: Spirits at
  3. Minimum alcohol content of spirits ( Memento of October 22, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) - The Federal Authority of the Swiss Confederation
  4. Klaus Klöppel: DuMont Bildatlas Gdansk, Baltic Sea, Masuria: On the way in northeastern Poland . Mair Dumont DE, 2016, ISBN 978-3-616-45054-4 ( limited preview in Google Book Search [accessed October 3, 2017]).
  5. Miltiades Varvounis: Made in Poland. The Women and Men Who Changed the World . Xlibris Corporation, 2016, ISBN 978-1-5245-9664-4 ( limited preview in Google Book Search [accessed October 3, 2017]).
  6. ^ Museum of Russian Vodka in St. Petersburg on Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  7. ^ Roland Bathon: Russian vodka. 2007, ISBN 978-3-8370-0173-0 , p. 14.
  8. The History of Vodka. Part 1. From, accessed November 2, 2016.
  9. ^ Anton Evseev: Dmitry Mendeleev and 40 degrees of Russian vodka. Pravda Report, November 21, 2011.
  10. Aleksandr Nikischin: Vodka i Stalin. Moscow 2007, pp. 13-18.
  11. ^ Roland Bathon: Russian vodka. 2007, ISBN 978-3-8370-0173-0 , p. 16.
  12. Desmond Begg: Vodka. 2000, ISBN 3-453-13778-7 , p. 46.
  13. ^ Roland Bathon: Russian vodka. 2007, ISBN 978-3-8370-0173-0 , pp. 83ff.
  14. Aleksandr Nikischin: Vodka i Gorbachev. Moscow 2007, p. 7.
  15. ^ Roland Bathon: Russian vodka. 2007, ISBN 978-3-8370-0173-0 , pp. 17f.
  16. Desmond Begg: Vodka. 2000, ISBN 3-453-13778-7 .
  17. ^ Roland Bathon: Russian vodka. 2007, ISBN 978-3-8370-0173-0 , p. 43.
  18. ^ Roland Bathon: Russian vodka. 2007, ISBN 978-3-8370-0173-0 , p. 28.
  19. Citizens, drink state vodka! In: FAZ . February 3, 2015, p. 10.