The history of vodka begins in the 9th century when two Russians wanted to import a mead-based spirit from Arabia into Russia. It was during its transportation that the spirit fell and due to the freezing temperatures, was of no use any more. However, such was their determination that far from giving up they decided to try a new type of distillation by freezing and skimming the mead to extract what later became to be known as “the water of life”. Hence its etymological origin, “voda” being a Slavic word meaning “water”.
The Surprising Medical Origin of Vodka
This water of life began to be used at the very beginning only for medicinal purposes. however it did not take very long before people began discovering a new potential for the magical water.
By 1700s vodka was already playing an important role in Russia and its history. Vodka had become such a demanded product that sometimes it was produced without controls and without heed to public health concerns. There were cases of people going blind from.
The History of Vodka Takes a Scientific Turn
Something had to be done. The Russian Government decided that a formula to create a standard in the production of vodka was necessary. This task was assigned to Dmitri Mendeleev, the famous Russian scientist and father of the periodic table. For ten years, Mendeleev thought how to create a vodka with the desired psychological effects and few negative side effects. In the process, he discovered that vodka could not be measured by volume, but by weight. This discovery helped him to find the perfect balance: 1 vodka spirit molecule to 3 purified water molecules. He also found out that charcoal filtration was very useful for removing impurities without eliminating its smooth grain taste.
Mendelev Makes Vodka History With his new Standard
Once the 40% standard of the formula was discovered, it was the Russian Government’s responsibility to enforce the new law so that corrupt producers were removed. Vodka became a premium spirit.
The Early 20th Century Shakes Up Vodka History
Due to the Russian Revolution, one of the most important vodka distillers, the Smirnoff family, fled Russia. The drink started being produced in Turkey and Poland. During the Great Depression, it also spread to America, and despite some difficulties being established in these new markets, it gradually took off outside Russia.
American culture also influenced spirit consumption a great deal. Prohibition (1920 – 1933) saw hard liquor being produced in secret with dubious production methods that greatly affected flavours. The addition of mixers, herbs, spices, garnishes, sugars and other drinks hid the foul taste of bootleg liquor. Ironically, an attempt to snuff out alcohol consumption led to the creation of one of its most successful incarnations – the modern cocktail.
A Whistlestop History of Vodka Cocktails:
- 1921: The first Bloody Mary.
- 1934: The first Cosmopolitan recipe is published.
- 1938: The first recorded ‘Screwdriver’.
- 1941: The Moscow Mule is invented.
- 1952: The Harvey Wallbanger.
- 1962: ‘White Russian’ enters the Oxford English Dictionary.