< back to resources

History of Vodka: Origin and Popular Vodka Uses

By
Lauren Platero
Table of Contents
Thank you! Check your inbox for details.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Vodka is one of the most popular types of alcohol. Its evolution began many centuries ago and has remained a versatile substance ever since. 

Both top-shelf and well liquor brands contain properties of ancient vodka recipes. It has been one of several high demand products behind the bar for many years and is within reach of every bartender you’ll find. 

Though the vodka you can purchase today is reflective of its roots, many adaptations were made over time. Before we learn about the evolution of vodka, let’s uncover its origin. 

Vodka Name Origin

“Vodka” comes from the Russian word voda, which means “water.” The liquor is a result of combining water and ethanol. The combination is then distilled through another substance such as corn, wheat, rye, or potatoes. 

History of Vodka

Vodka has an extensive history within the beverage and food industries. Its simplicity and adjustability make it a staple for various settings. The ways to add it to drinks are endless. Plus, it’s also common in food recipes.

Like many other types of liquor, such as whiskey and rum, geography plays a significant role. In fact, this is why many whiskey brands include their region in the name. Location can distinguish unique characteristics, which can result in different flavors, aromas, and consistencies. Different European nations and the United States made numerous adaptations to vodka. Let’s dive into the history of each area. 

History of Vodka in Europe

Russia and Poland were the first countries to produce vodka. The first recipe was made in Russia toward the end of the 9th century. Though historians have documentation that this did occur, it doesn’t seem as though distillation was an ongoing process. In 1174, the first Russian distillery was born in a small town named Khylnovsk. 

Poland was technically the first country to create vodka, but it was pretty different from what is sold today. There is documentation that the Polish distilled vodka during the 8th century; however, they used wine instead of water. The result was similar to brandy or cognac.

It wasn’t until the 11th century that Poland produced an authentic kind of vodka as we know it today. However, it wasn’t meant for consumption. During this era, vodka was used for medicinal purposes. 

Vodka was initially a low-quality liquor. Over time, distilleries advanced their production processes to perfect their craft. Eventually, distillers began passing vodka through charcoal filters. By doing so, they were able to eliminate all impurities. 

The European Union classifies vodka as liquor with a minimum ABV of 37.5%. It’s advisable to know how much alcohol is in the liquor you’re drinking (learn more about  what does one part mean). 

History of Vodka in America  

During WWI, vodka was introduced to the United States. Consumption was becoming mainstream for the first time outside of Eastern Europe. American soldiers contributed to its popularity in the 1930s and became a favorite during WWII. 

Once vodka became popular in Western countries, it was no longer exclusive to Russia and Poland. In fact, the United States took over most of its production. American distilleries are responsible for unique styles of vodka, as they were the first to use other fermentation substances like corn and potatoes. 

In 1930, vodka was featured in a recipe book for the first time. Author Harry Craddock published The Savoy Cocktail Book, which included recipes for numerous cocktails. 

It’s still one of the best cocktail recipe books and is a source of inspiration for mixology experts worldwide. Learn more about drinks from our complete bartender's guide book for more ideas. 

As vodka became the main ingredient for countless cocktails, glassware for alcoholic beverages evolved, too. Signature glasses became associated with specific recipes, creating distinguishable differences in bars and restaurants. Some establishments even come up with bar event ideas that revolve around vodka cocktails, such as the Espresso Martini Festival in New York City.  

In the United States, vodka must have a 40% ABV or be 80 proof. Learn how to calculate ABV to ensure your safety when consuming liquor. 

Introducing Flavored Vodka 

In 1986, the first flavored vodka hit the market. Absolut released its Peppar flavor seven years after launching the brand. 

Now, almost every vodka brand has flavored options. It’s a vodka style that many consumers enjoy. Many consumers think that flavored vodka is the best alcohol for shots and ideal for sipping it neat (on its own). 

Happy hour lists and other menu types frequently list flavored vodkas, and some happy hour themes are centered on them. Many drink specials are innovative blends from the bar staff, so they often contain flavored vodkas.

Martinis, for instance, usually come in seasonal flavors, so it’s always a good idea for bars to have various flavor options in their liquor storage cabinets (learn more about other delicious drinks to know as a bartender).

Many brands opt for infusion methods. Though they add flavor, the process results in a high-quality vodka. Infusion is the process of steeping ingredients like fruits and herbs into the vodka instead of adding additional ingredients at the end. 

Many refreshing summer cocktails are inspired by the infusion method, as the fruit juices function as a prevalent aspect of the flavor profile. Spring cocktails also incorporate similar flavors as well. Other seasonal mixed drinks often contain mixers and flavorings, but don’t use as many fruits. Instead, cocktails often use spices, coffee, and mint extracts in the fall and winter. 

As liquor brands find new ways to differentiate themselves from others, vodka will continue to evolve. Regardless of the changes we see, it will always be a staple in most popular cocktails

Vodka Uses 

Vodka wasn’t always meant for consumption. There are many ways to use vodka aside from drinking it. If you end up with a bottle of vodka that you won’t consume, wait before disposing of it. 

Over the years, people have discovered that you can use vodka for numerous household purposes. Here are just a few ways vodka can be beneficial to have on hand, even if you don’t consume alcohol:

Cooking With Vodka

Vodka adds a delicious boost to meals. It’s often an ingredient in sauces and glazes. Since vodka is tasteless, many types of chefs prefer using it over wine, as it doesn’t add flavor to their recipes. It’s a foolproof way of strengthening the flavor profile for a robust taste. 

Make sure that you thoroughly cook the sauce to burn out the vodka. If not, the meal will contain alcohol, which would be a major issue for restaurants. 

Cleaning With Vodka

Vodka is an efficient solution for cleaning around the home. For instance, it works wonders on residue and can lift stains. 

If you’re ever in need of vinegar but have vodka instead, they work very similarly. It’s safe to use on appliances; it can even give them a shiny finish. 

Preserve Flowers and Kill Weeds

You can keep floral arrangements looking beautiful and eliminate overgrown weeds with vodka. If you add just a couple of drops with a teaspoon of sugar to your vase, it halts the production of ethylene–the chemical that causes flowers to wilt. 

Before heading outside to trim the weeds, dilute an ounce of vodka and a few drops of dish detergent with water. Add the solution to a spray bottle and spritz all over the weeds directly exposed to the sun. The greenery will dry out in no time. 

If you’re planning to open a bar, we recommend you onboard a restaurant inventory management system to increase bar profits. Book a demo with us to learn how BinWise can help simplify managing your restaurant operations.

Frequently Asked Questions About the History of Vodka

What Was Vodka First Made From?

Vodka was initially made from potatoes and contained a lower alcohol content than it does today. Now, many liquor brands use grains instead. 

What Is the Oldest Vodka?

Smirnoff is the oldest vodka brand and has been in business since 1864. It remains one of the best-selling vodka brands worldwide, too. 

What Is the Best Vodka?

Beluga and Grey Goose tie as the best vodkas. These top-shelf liquors are distilled to perfection and offer a clean, smooth finish. Both brands are luxurious options if you want to splurge.