history Eastern_Europe  POLAND  

 

The History of Polish Wodka

by Christopher MacLeod

 

 

 

Distillation of vodka was well known and widespread in Poland as early as the sixteenth century. Documents surviving from that time contain much information on it, even giving detailed formulas. The names "vodka" and "spirits" were used in Poland more than four hundred years ago. Vodka distillation in the Middle Ages was very primitive, and the product was low proof. Triple distillation began in the eighteenth century, yielding a product called "okowita". When you know that the Polish "w" sounds like a "v", it is easy to see that the word is aqua vitae rendered in Polish.

Okowita was 70-80% alcohol. Through dilution with water, different kinds of 60-70 proof vodkas for shops and inns were obtained. Better, stronger vodka was produced by further distilling diluted okowita in an alembic, the method of those days. The spirits which had been produced in the homes of nobles and in monasteries in medieval times began to be made on an industrial scale in the eighteenth century.

 

Jan Baczewski founded the first liqueur distillery in 1782 in Lvov. Political and economic factors were behind the growth of the distillation industry in Galicia in the eighteenth century. The partitioning of Poland cut off former markets and created the need to use surplus grain previously exported. A great number of flavored spirits distilleries appeared, large and small. Between the world wars, unflavored vodka production expanded under the supervision of the State Alcohol Monopoly. Strong competition reduced the number of distilleries. The People's Republic of Poland nationalized the alcoholic beverage industry and concentrated it in seventeen large plants manufacturing a broad assortment of unflavored and flavored spirits. The quality remained competitive, earning gold medals and distinctions at international trade fairs and exhibitions, although there was somewhat of a break from pre-war traditions.

 

In 1991 the Polmos association of distillery enterprises ceased to exist. In its place, nineteen state-owned enterprises were created, each inheriting the Polmos name and sharing brands. Competition between producers has led to the creation of many new brands differing only in their labels. An undoubted benefit of the dissolution of Polmos however, is the fact that producers have begun to place great stress on quality since they now bear full responsibility for their balance sheets. Intense competition has been good for the industry's development as a whole.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Polish Vodka Web Site. www.polishvodka.euro-index.com.pl.:

  • Vodka’s Glory Days. Robert Plotkin.
  • History of Vodka. Marian Hanik.

 


 

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