Updated: Jul 31, 2020
The earliest beginnings of vodka are a bit unclear, but the consensus seems to be that it spanned across Russia and Poland, and even perhaps parts of Eastern Europe as early as 700-800's.
The original form of vodka was much lower in alcohol (around 14%), and had a very different flavor, smell and color (some describe it as earthy). And at that point, vodka was still very much used for medicinal purposes. Some information suggests it was basically used as a cure-all for any medical ailment. When the potstill was invented in the 8th century, which essentially allowed the burning off of the water, the alcohol content increased.
The origins can be traced to Poland and Russia, although they seem to be in disagreement about who was first. Vodka however, was named for the Russian work "voda", which means "water", and dates to the 9th century. The first distillery in Russia however, is not mentioned until two centuries later in 1174. However, over in Poland they claim the discovery goes back to the 8th Century. Regardless of the "inventor", there is no dispute that vodka was quite prevalent in both countries.
It wasn't until 1830, with the invention of continuous distillation by Aenaes Coffeey, that vodka really evolved though. Over the next 100 years, Russia and Poland became the main producers and drinkers of vodka.
Vodka began to make its way over to the U.S, and the first recorded cocktail recipe was made in 1911 at the St. Charles Hotel in New Orleans. However, it wasn't really until after Prohibition, that vodka began to become popular in the States. Many U.S. bartenders fled to Europe during that time, and vodka was beginning to become a popular spirit there. The bartenders brought it back with them, and it took off in the U.S., with cocktails such as the Martini, Cosmopolitan, and Bloody Mary.
The vodka we know today, is made through a distillation process. It is made by distilling starches, corn, rye, wheat, potatoes, molasses or other byproducts. Depending on where it's made, the production tends to vary. After the product is distilled, it's generally filtered and then (sometimes) flavored.
So what's your favorite Vodka drink? Here is our list of our 6 favorite vodka + tea cocktails!
The Owl's Brew Crew