Vodka: the Origin of the Name and its History

7 minutes
De Luxe
The Inked Collection

Vodka can be truly considered one of the most popular and the oldest alcoholic beverage in Europe. Despite the broad variety of alcoholic products in modern hypermarkets and specialized liquor stores, it continues to lead when it comes to the volume of sales. The strong and transparent alcoholic drink has long become a traditional one on festive tables of Ukrainians, and at the same time far from everybody knows the story behind its name.

Why Vodka is Called Precisely This Way

The most popular version among modern historians is that the origin of the name vodka (horilka in Ukrainian) is based on the Polish word gorzeć, which in Ukrainian translation means “burn”. Apparently, it is related to the fact that in the process of production, the sample drink was tested for strength by setting it aflame. To pass such a test the alcohol content had to be about 38%. The first known records of vodka came to us specifically from bordering Poland; they were dated by the beginning of the 15th century. It is hardly surprising because Poland was the first country in Europe that devised vodka.

Up to the present, there is the belief that vodka was invented by Dmitri Mendeleev. This statement is not completely correct. The scientist indeed researched the solution performance of spirits and water in his dissertation that he defended in 1865. He figured out that the smallest dissipation of the resulting solution is achieved with 40-degree alcoholic content. However, in those times he did not even realize that this solution would be consumed by anybody. Therefore, he did not research the organoleptic properties of the product and its health effects. It is worth noting that by European standards vodka can be with 37.5 degrees, and even with 56.

The History of Vodka Production

At the beginning of its existence in Europe, vodka was considered the solution made only for medical purposes and was used for disinfection of hands and tools. People started to drink it as an alcoholic beverage in the 15th century, at the same time it did not look like it looks today – the liquid was rather nebulous due to the immaturity of technology. At the beginning of the 16th century, there were more than 70 formulas of vodka production and the process of distillation was at the core of it. The technology was deficient, therefore the “hot wine”, as it was called then, at those times saved the hints of the primary product.

The most profound transformation vodka underwent in the same 16th century when the Polish king issued an ordinance, which allowed the distilling of alcoholic beverages for sale. Cracow is considered the town where the first vodka distillery was built. The production reached such a high level and the demand was so great that vodka distilleries were opened until the end of the century in Gdansk and Poznan as well.

A new stage of development took place in the 18th century. In those days, one of the most famous vodka distilleries was built in Europe. It distilled vodka in industrial-scale volumes, known under the name Baczewski Liqueurs and Vodka Factory, and was located not far from Lviv. The particular quality of the product was its transparency in comparison with other manufacturers, and therefore later it was exported to most countries of the modern European Union.

For the first time vodka flavored with honey from Nemyriv, which was used to wine and dine diplomats that gathered together in the palace of Józef Potocki on the occasion of the end of yet another war, was mentioned in 1737. Europeans liked the product so much that after a while a small distillery in the Vinnytsia region became the main supplier of vodka and liqueurs abroad.After the end of World War I, the government of independent Poland decided to control the production of vodka nationally. For this purpose, there was created a special body – the State monopoly on alcoholic beverages, which was the only legal manufacturer. The State monopoly on the production and sale of vodka was in Ukraine during Soviet times as well. At those times, vodka was called ​​“kazenka” because it was available only in a state wine vault. In the 1990s in our country were created private distillery enterprises with proper distilleries and trademarks, and the range of alcoholic beverages substantially expanded. The State monopoly on spirits production in Ukraine was rescinded on July 1, 2020. As a result, the distilleries were listed for sale. Nemyriv distillery was the first one that was purchased by the company Nemiroff. This triggered a new stage of branch development in Ukraine.


Nemiroff Distillery, 2024