History of Vodka in Poland

Polish Vodka

To this day historians and scholars cannot pinpoint exact origins of the vodka, famous alcoholic beverage that is today enjoyed all across the world. However, one thing is certain. Poland and Russia are two countries who are trying their best to prove to everyone that their distilleries were the first one who started producing this great drink.

There are many unknowns about this question, but several historical writings point us to 8th century AD Poland, and the distilleries that possibly started producing Vodka one century before Russians (9th century). Creation of vodka was not possible before that date, because vodka cannot be derived from natural fermentation, and distillation was discovered in 8th century. These claims are not 100% verified, and undisputable information about vodka production can be located only in Russian city of Khlynovsk around 1174.

The first written record of the word “vodka” comes from Poland in 1405, as a part of the court documents “Akta Grodzkie “ from the Palatinate of Sandomierz. During that time, vodka was not widely used as a drink, but more as a medicinal substance for sterilizing wounds, numbing injuries and as a cosmetic cleanser. First Russian mention of the word Vodka came more than century later in 1533, and it referenced Polish medicinal drink. During 1400s, Polish people stopped looking at vodka solely as a medical ingredient, and started consuming is as a recreational spirit. This popularity grew, and mass production distilleries were formed all around Poland, and especially in the area of Krakow, Poznań (city that had 698 distilleries in 1580) and Gdańsk. Some of them are even in business today – Żubrówka from 16th century, Starka vodka from 16th century and Goldwasser from early 17th.

Important change in the production of Vodka in Poland happened in mid-17th century when nobility started enforcing monopoly on creation and selling of vodka on their territories. Encouraged by high profit margins and large demand, distilleries were created all across Poland for the next two centuries, and exports to dozens of surrounding countries (and few distant ones like England) became more and more popular. By the end of 18th century, production of Vodka by nobility and clergy truly reached its highest point with the introduction of modern industrial production facilities (first one in 1782). By 1925 entire production and distribution chain of vodka drink was monopolized by Polish government, after WW2 by Poland's communist government. This all ended in 1980 when Polish trade union won their victory, and all distilleries were privatized.