Vodka, a Brief History: 31 Fun Facts that Will Make You Want to Drink

Have a drink—your body will thank you 😉
It’s Friday night, and you’re feeling alright. Vodka seems like a great choice to start the evening, especially after the week you’ve had. But there’s a whole lot more to vodka than being a colorless, odorless, nearly flavorless liquor. Here are 27 spirited facts we know about our spritely friend.

1. The word Vodka comes from the Slavic word for “water”
In Russian, that word was Voda, and in Polish, it was Woda. Vodka became an affectionate, diminutive term for the word.

2. The first time the word vodka was recorded was in 1405
We have the Polish to thank for that one. 1405 was the year they recorded it in one of their documents. The tradition of making vodka developed in Russia and Poland during the 14th century.

3. The Vodka Belt and Fellowship of the Ring have a lot in common
As in they both are nine in number. Whereas the Fellowship was a band of like-minded heroes, the Vodka Belt was similarly a collection of nations in which knowledge grew and flowed. These nations are: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and Sweden, Finland, and Norway. In this belt, the technology and tradition of vodka developed over the centuries. Sounds like a lot more fun than Mordor.

4. Vodka was produced with indigenous ingredients, typically rye or wheat
It wasn’t until later that potatoes were used to make vodka. Now, there are many more ways to create vodka, such as with grapes, sugar beet, molasses, and corn, just to name a few.

5. The time the Soviet Union drank so much, they ran out of vodka
That’s right. At 1:10 a.m. on May 9th, 1945, Nazi Germany officially surrendered to the Soviet Union. In celebration, rather than wait until morning, the USSR seized the night, running out to the street in their pajamas. When Joseph Stalin addressed the nation 22 hours later, the Soviets were faced with an entirely different crisis: the entire country was out of vodka! One reporter said, “I was lucky to buy a liter of vodka at the train station when I arrived, because it was impossible to buy any later … There was no vodka in Moscow on May 10; we drank it all.”

6. Vodka’s first creators
Many types of vodka now populate the planet, all with various, unique origins. Modern vodka can be traced back to Russia and Poland, although to this day, the countries disagree on who was to first create this iconic drink.

7. Wait, we can do what with vodka?
What began as a medical remedy soon became an iconic recipe. For over two centuries, vodka was solely used as a disinfectant and pain-killer and reducer. In the 14th century, its popularity began to rise. Legend has it that a monk from the Chudov Monastery in Kremlin named Isidore made the first recipe for Russian vodka using his knowledge of distillation.

8. Vodka’s fair in love and war
Russian soldiers involved in the Napoleonic Wars, and who were present in many parts of Europe were a big catalyst for the popularity of vodka spreading throughout the 19th century.

9. A fascinating man, that Smirnoff…
Following the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks confiscated all private distilleries in Moscow causing many Russian vodka-makers to emigrate. One highly-skilled man fled to Paris where he revived his brand using the French version of his family name—Smirnoff. Upon meeting a Russian outcast from the USA, the two men set up their first vodka distillery there in 1934. A US drinks company bought it and from the 1940s on, vodka began its ascent into the spotlight in the Western world.

10. Russians drink A LOT of vodka
As if that’s any surprise. However those numbers are changing slightly. In 1911, Russia consumed 89% of all vodka. In 2016, that number has dropped to 70%. It doesn’t look like anyone will outdrink them any time soon.

11. The United States is throwing down too…
Twenty percent of the United States alcohol market is taken up by vodka (which is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks worldwide). In 2018, US alcohol sales reached US $253.8 billion, which is an increase of 5.1%, or $12.4 billion.

12. Vodka is one of the purest drinks in the world
Most other alcohols contain fusel alcohols, or fuselol, (known in Europe as fusel oils) which are mixtures of several alcohols produced as alcoholic fermentation byproducts. The word Fusel in German means “bad liquor.” The science of whether fusel alcohols contribute to hangover symptoms is still hotly debated. As vodka is distilled from water, ethanol, and fermented grains or potatoes, it contains very few fusel alcohols.

13. If vodka were a person, it would be the young grasshopper
That’s because vodka is young, in that it’s usually not left to age. The typical process is fermentation, distillation, and then production—unlike other alcohols, vodka can be immediately bottled and sold.

14. Traditionally, vodka is drunk neat
That may seem odd, since that’s not typically what we see. Drinking something neat means it’s drunk by itself and with nothing else—no water, ice, or other mixer. In the vodka belt countries though, the drink is often served chilled.

15. Some types of vodka have added flavors
Some sound more appetizing than others: red pepper, fruit, ginger, vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon, cherry or apple, to name a few. In Russia, popular flavors include honey and pepper as additions. In Poland, bison grass is a fan favorite. Yip yip!

16. Spirytus Polish Vodka takes the crown for highest alcoholic content in the world
96 percent alcohol is the strongest bottle of liquor sold in the world. Yup, that’s right. Higher than Puerto Rican rum, Bacardi 151 (151 proof), higher than Czech Republic’s Hapsburg Gold Label Premium Reserve Absinthe (179 proof), and even higher than US made Everclear (190 proof). That 96 percent alcohol of Spirytus Polish Vodka comes out to a whopping 192 proof. Perhaps Spirytus Vodka is a drink for Zeus himself and not us mere mortals.

17. The first museum in Russia was a vodka museum
It was also the first museum in the world dedicated to vodka. The Vodka Museum in St. Petersburg tells the story of Russia’s favorite drink in a comedic way. It includes the first production of ‘bread wine,’ and the phenomenon of the modern international vodka industry. Waxwork models and some very cool looking bottles help this museum shine a light on a unique and interesting window into Russia’s history.

18. “This year, we’re going to pay you in… vodka!”
In September, 1998, that’s exactly what happened to teachers in part of Siberia, Russia. Authorities had to no money to pay their wages bill, but one thing they did have a lot of was vodka. More than 8,000 teachers were given 15 bottles each—they had not been paid their salaries for almost seven months by then!

19. Vodka [can] have healing properties
The debate over this topic can be piping hot. It’s difficult to support causation in some studies and there is a lot of misinformation out there, but for the most part, vodka has been shown to have the following health benefits: better cardiovascular health, stress reduction, optimization of cholesterol and arteries, and it may prevent stroke and Alzheimer’s. [should we have a disclaimer here or somewhere on our site? For example, nothing we say should be taken as medical advice and you should consult a qualified physician before making any changes to your health.]

20. Burn, baby burn
Vodka also has been known to have antiseptic and antibacterial qualities. It can disinfect wounds (which is how it was used for many years), and it is an effective cleaning agent.

21. Vodka can help preserve flowers
The claim here usually mentions vodka’s antimicrobial properties, but John Dole, horticulturist at North Carolina State University says differently. He believes adding a few drops of vodka to vase water can delay a flower’s production of ethylene, a gas that plants emit, causing them to wilt.

22. To imbibe or not to imbibe?
While vodka can be used an antidote, it also can have the opposite effect. Out of all Russian men, 3.25 % of them die before age 50. That is mainly due to vodka. Source

23. I like the taste of this drink, but it looks too American
That’s in reference to the American made Coca-Cola. George Zhukov, Marshall of the Soviet Union, loved it but didn’t want to be seen drinking a symbol of American imperialism. So he had his own version made. Through Harry S. Truman, a chemist created a colorless version that looked like vodka. Source

24. And the creator of vodka award goes to…
Poland! Apparently this source thinks so. Invented in Poland and first produced in the 8th century. Source

25. Dmitri Mendeleev, creator of the Periodic Table did not create the Russian standard for vodka
That is a myth. In 1843, the Russian government introduced the 40% standard strength for vodka, and Mendeleev was nine years old. The myth comes from Mendeleev’s 1865 doctoral dissertation „A Discourse on the combination of alcohol and water“ as it contained a statement that 38% is the ideal strength of vodka. Later, this number was rounded to 40% to simplify calculation of the alcohol tax. Source

26. Russia traded vodka and warships to America in 1990 for Pepsi
As the largest deal between America and the Soviet Union, the barter was valued at more than $3 billion.  The deal expanded the availability of Pepsi-Cola in the Soviet Union. On the American side, they received at least 10 tankers and freighters valued at more than $300 million. Pepsico took out its profits in Stolichnaya Vodka. Source

27. Russia uses the word vodka a lot
In Russia, the Russian word for vodka (voda) slides into the top 1,000 most used words at #945. Source

The scales are tipping and vodka makers are using way more than just potatoes to craft their clear drink. Today, most vodka is made from fermented grains such as sorghum, corn, rice, rye, or wheat. Potatoes, fruits, and sugar are also used but not as often. Source

29. You can buy a bottle of vodka that comes with a 24/7 concierge service
At a price tag of $3.7m, Billionaire Vodka is the most expensive vodka in the world. Buying this vodka means it will be hand delivered to you by a concierge who will serve you anytime, anywhere for an entire year. Talk about a mood. Source

30. Pass the screwdriver!
The drink name “screwdriver” originated from engineers mixing vodka into cans of orange juice using screwdrivers. Times sure have changed! Source