Falling in love with Polish vodka
Vodka is the liquid that powers the Polish nation. Much loved, with a long history and with a hefty alcohol content, it makes for the perfect addition to any night out in Krakow, or dinner, lunch or even breakfast for that matter – just don’t be surprised if you can’t keep up with your local hosts.
The history of Polish vodka
Although debated, some historians believe that vodka originated in Poland rather than Russia as many commonly assume. In reality, it’s hard to tell, as very few records exist from that time, and it’s likely that people have been brewing moonshine similar to vodka for many centuries.
The first recorded evidence of the vodka we know today in Poland comes from some court records dating to 1405. The word vodka used to be used to describe cosmetics and medicine made from it, while the beverage was known as gorzałka, taken from an Old Polish verb that means ‘to burn’. Back in those days people thought vodka had mythical qualities, and one boss told his workers that it could “to increase fertility and awaken lust”.
How vodka is made
Early methods were rudimentary and resulted in low percentages in the 8 – 11% range. Vodka production was a cottage industry up until the end of the 18th century when industrial production started to ramp up. Today distilleries are large-scale and make use of filtering with activated charcoal to ensure smooth clear vodka in the 37.5% – 40% range.
While vodka can be made from any sugar or starch rich plant, Polish vodka tends to be made from grain. The popular brand Żubrówka for example is distilled from rye. Another popular feature of Polish vodka is that many brands are flavoured. Żubrówka Bison Grass vodka is popular, flavoured with grass from the Białowieża Forest, while Soplica Vodka is offered in a range of flavours including hazelnut, cherry and quince.
Where to enjoy vodka in Krakow
Alongside Soplice and Żubrówka some famous brands in Poland include Żołądkowa Gorzka, Wyborowa and Biała Dama. You can find vodka in practically every restaurant and bar – just ask the waiter or bartender to tell you which one they like best – and be prepared to stay for a few.
One chain of bars to look out for in Krakow is Pijalnia Wodki i Piwa. Sacred among locals – particularly students – most are open 24 hours a day and serve beers and shots for 4 zloty each, and also serve tradtional Polish pub snacks.