VODKA: A Bitesize History

Just in case you ever get entered into a pub quiz with a round on our favourite spirit… don’t panic, we’ve got you covered…

VODKA… Everything you never knew you needed to know


What’s in a name? The name vodka is a diminutive form of the Slavic word voda (water), interpreted as little water:

The Origin Story: Both Russia and Poland claim vodka as their own invention, with the word ‘wodka’ recorded In Poland as early as 1405, a substance with around 75% ABV (thankfully only used in medicines and herbal tinctures), and over in Russia, Genoese ambassadors are reported to have brought the aqua vitae (“water of life”) to Moscow in 1386.

Both countries refer to an early vodka drink as ‘burning water’. A less potent version of our modern spirit, diluted to between 14-24% ABV or less, and revered as a powerful cure-all that could “increase fertility and awaken lust” (Stefan Falimierz 1534).

VODKA: A Bitesize History 1

Russian Vodka distillery c. 19th century (source: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s a Matter of Taste. Flavoured vodkas actually date back to the 13th century, when roots, honey, herbs and botanical essences were added to make the raw just-out-of-the still spirit more palatable – not something we need today with the vastly improved distillation processes and the finer tasting PURE vodka, of course.

But can it help you see in the dark? During the late 18th century vodka was produced from a broader range of substances, including the humble carrot. (Hey, we always hoped vodka counted as one of our ‘five a day’), now days it is generally produced using wheat or potato but common alternatives include rye, corn/maize, barley, sugar beet or grape.

A clear success: It wasn’t until the late 19th century that improvements in technology created a clear spirit and in 1925 the Polish government established a monopoly on the production of clear vodka.

And a bit of Science: One of the unusual things about the processing of vodka is that when the alcohol and water are mixed the mixture contracts, meaning, for example, 500 litres of water plus 500 litres of alcohol produces 941 litres of vodka.

Russian gold: By the late 1800s vodka was the drink of choice in Czarist Russia and at times, taxes on the spirit provided a massive 40% of state revenue.

There is a Vodka Belt (but you can’t wear it)… This geographical region includes the Nordic countries (minus Denmark), the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Russia, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Slovakia.

If you Like Drinking Games look no further: The Vodka Open, the first ever sport-drinking championship, was held in Moscow in 1997. The ‘so called’ cultural event featured athletic exercises, workshops and tests as well as drinking contests. (We don’t think we’d do that well at the pole vault after a couple of shots, so you might want to count us out).

In case you’re feeling flush: Here are three of the worlds most ridiculously expensive vodkas:

  • Russo Baltique (old) – $740,000
  • Diva Vodka – $1 Million.
  • Billionaire Vodka: At $3.75million, you’d expect the gold standard and this doesn’t disappoint. Filtered through ice, Nordic birch charcoal, and sand from crushed gems, we’re told this vodka comes in a diamond encrusted bottle with a solid gold label (explains the price tag). When purchased, it is delivered by a secure courier in white gloves.
Or alternatively, for a product we believe to be just as good, drink PURE for a humble £33.00.

We don’t know about you, but all that info has worked up a thirst… it must be about time for a PURE organic vodka.

PURE is a refreshing, light, drink, 100% organic, vegan and perfect over ice, or with your favourite mixer. 

Looking for cocktail inspiration? Why not head over to our Cocktail Hub for menus, ingredients, methods and to let your creative juices flow.

To purchase PURE, click below.