Visit any Jabs Bar in the world and you will find that vodka is easily among the most common spirits. For many years, actually, it was the leading spirit in the bartending world, generally because it is clean and light in flavor, which makes it easy to add to a mixer—like juice or soda—for a simple drink.
While there appears to have been a renaissance, of sorts, and people, these days are getting more interested in different types of gin, whisky, and even tequila, vodka remains a go-to spirit because of its effortless simplicity.
The Origins of Vodka
But vodka is not just among the most popular spirits in the modern bar world. Vodka has roots to the 15th century, where it first appears in the written form. Indeed, the Palatinate of Sandomierz, Poland’s Akta Gradzkie court records of deeds of 1405 maks reference to “vodka” as a type of beverage. In this publication, of course, it was listed in the local vernacular as “wódka” and it was actually intimated to mean a type of medicine or cosmetic cleaner (like, perhaps, an astringent). Vodka, as we know the term—and the drink—today also hails from the Old Polish gorzałka, from the verb “gorzeć”, which means, “to burn”.
Why is Vodka Popular?
Vodka became a popular spirit, though, not because it was medicinal or because it “burned,” though many cheaper quality vodkas, these days do, definitely “burn.” No, vodka became popular probably because you can distill it from any sugar- or starch-rich plant matter. Modern vodkas are more consistently made from corn, rye, sorghum, or wheat. Rye and wheat are, generally, considered the most superior forms; you can even find vodkas, today, made from beets, grapes, molasses, rice, soybeans, potatoes, and, of course, sugar.
Early Vodka History
The earliest known production of vodka followed that initial Polish publication with rudimentary stills and low alcohol yield. Vodka production was a cottage industry, so to speak, in Poland until the late 1700s, when it really began to grow in popularity. At this point, nobility and clergy both began to produce the stuff.
Middle Vodka History
Around the close of World War II all vodka stills (in Poland, et al) were taken over by Marxist-Leninist government officials. During the period of martial law in the 1980s, this government rationed all vodka sales. Conveniently, vodka production began to take off in Russia and Sweden (two countries we associate with quality vodka, today).