Vodka – an interesting fact about …

Vodka is a great and easy ingredient to use in cocktails. You really can’t go wrong. It adds a bit of a kick, without changing the flavour or the colour. However, where it all started is not so clear.

Vodkas in their natural habitat - with ice!
Vodkas in their natural habitat – with ice!

It is true to say that as with the competing claims for the invention of whisky by the Scots and Irish, vodka is also hotly disputed. Russia and Poland still produce and claim the heritage for starting vodka production. And to this day, they have their subtle differences.

The third style is the ultra refined, smooth Western style vodkas. 2 of the leading brands of this that I’ve tended to use are Absolut and Finlandia. The Smirnoff we in Britain are used to is a good example of a Western style vodka too.

As mentioned it grew in popularity as drinking became increasingly popular with young people, unused to the subtleties of stronger flavoured spirits, so vodka became the drink of choice overtaking gin. It is now the biggest selling spirit in the world. And yet it wasn’t widely available in Europe or the U.S. until the late 1940s. Not bad after a late start.

And now for the interesting fact about vodka. Although the Smirnov (this was the original spelling) company started distilling in 1818, it was Pierre Smirnov’s nephew Piotr who gave the company it’s great step forward.

At the 1886 Novgorod exhibition, Poitr had a bear, a real live bear in a cage. This attracted the attention of Czar Alexander the third who stopped and sampled the vodka. He liked it, appointed them as suppliers to the royal court, and as they say the rest is history. This bit of networking got them into supplying the royal courts in Sweden and Spain, and by 1900 (just 14 years later) they employed 1,500 people and exported to Western Europe and even the U.S. Then came the Russian Revolution in 1917, and that was the end of that  ……. Sort of. For a while.

Flavoured vodkas which really got going about 5 years ago can be great ingredients to use in your cocktails. The flavourings can be subtle and work well with other liqueurs and spirits. And don’t be put off by the high price of some of the premium products such as Chase Marmalade vodka. It really is well worth the effort.


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