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Vodka and Vodka Drinks

One of the most popular spirits in the world, vodka is truly an Eastern European gem though you can find it en masse throughout most of the world, including the United States. However, the Russians continue to take credit for the creation of vodka – from the Russian “voda”, which means water – and are certainly responsible for the best vodkas and for developing the most sophisticated techniques for making this clear spirit, which leaves no smell on the breath when one drinks it.

It is said that the people of Eastern Europe, including Russia, Poland, Sweden, Finland, the Ukraine, and other countries in that locale, have always taken their alcoholic beverages very seriously. Because of extremely cold temperatures in that area, wines and beers that were transported to that region froze because of their low alcohol content, hence the necessity of developing a spirit like vodka, which is a much higher-proof drink. This would help keep them warm during the long, cold winters.

Written records show that most of the Eastern European countries began producing vodka somewhere around the 15th to 16th centuries. In some of these countries, vodka had a variety of uses besides as a beverage, or to be used in a cocktail. In Poland, it was marketed as an aftershave and as a liniment for aches and pains. In Sweden, it was a component in gun powder for muskets!

Imported vodka didn’t make its way to the United States, however, until the beginning of the 20th century and, most often, those who purchased it were of Eastern European descent. Of course, Prohibition, which continued from 1920 to 1933, seriously slowed the popularity of the beverage and it didn’t really take off until the late 30s when Heublein Company – the original producers of A1 Steak Sauce – bought the rights to the Smirnoff brand and brought it to the U.S. A story notes that vodka sales really took off when a salesman started promoting it with the motto “No taste. No smell”, enticing those who wanted to drink without their habit being detected!

Kinds of Vodka

Rules in the United States governing the production of vodka limits the spirit to those that are “neutral”, which is defined as “without distinctive character, aroma, taste of color.” For that reason, there isn’t a lot of difference between types of vodka manufactured in the U.S., though prices do vary as does alcohol content. Most people eventually develop their favorite brand.

In Europe, however, where vodka seems to be the favored spirit, there are indeed classifications. The top Russian vodkas are labeled “osobaya” or special. Others are noted as strong or “krepkaya”, which means they have a proof of 56 percent or higher. Poland, another premium importer of the spirit, uses three classifications - standard (zwykly), premium (wyborowy) and deluxe (luksusowy).    

In Eastern Europe, many of the vodkas are flavored and might include varieties such as Limmonaya (lemon flavored), pertsovka (pepper flavored), or kubanskaya (flavored with dried orange and lemon peels).

Popular Vodka Cocktails

Vodka is considered the most mixable base for cocktails, so there are indeed a huge variety of vodka-based beverages served throughout the world. Some of the favorites are:

o Bloody Mary – This popular red drink contains vodka mixed with lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and tomato juice.

o Appletini (Apple Martini) – Simply combine vodka with apple juice, cider, or schnapps. Lots of other martinis are made with vodka as well.

o Black Russian – This simple combination of vodka and Kahlua is served over ice and makes a great after-dinner drink.

o Electric Lemonade – Combine vodka with Blue Curacao, sweet and sour mix, and lemon-lime soda.

o Harvey Wallbanger – Quite popular in the 60s and 70s, this drink includes vodka, orange juice, and Galliano.

o Long Island Ice Tea – Vodka, gin, rum, tequila, triple sec, and sweet and sour mix are all mixed with Coke for this modern drink.

o Moscow Mule – This is believed to have been the first popular mixed drink made with vodka. Combine the spirit with lime juice and ginger beer and serve it in a frosted mug.

o Screwdriver – This classic drink contains vodka and orange juice and is served over ice.

o Salty Dog – Similar to the screwdriver, this drink includes grapefruit juice instead of orange juice.