Evidence shows that vodka – known in Polish as wódka – was invented in Poland; some sources suggest that the first production of vodka took place as early as the 8th century, becoming more widespread in the 11th century. The world’s first written mention of the drink and of the word “vodka” was in 1405 from Akta Grodzkie recorder of deeds, the court documents from the Palatinate of Sandomierz in Poland. The word written in Cyrillic appeared first in 1533, in relation to a medicinal drink brought from Poland to Russia by the merchants of Kievan Rus’. In Poland vodka started out as a medicine, later became a popular drink among the lower classes (known then as gorzałka), eventually becoming widespread among the szlachta of the Polish Commonwealth too, who invented innovative vodka blends, some of which are still sold today as renowned brands – such as Żubrówka.
Vodka production on a much larger scale began in Poland at the end of the 16th century. By the 17th and 18th centuries, Polish vodka was known in the Netherlands, Denmark, England, Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria and the Black Sea basin. Traditionally, vodka is made by the distillation of fermented grains or potatoes, but the late 18th century in Poland inaugurated the production of vodka from various unexpected substances including even the carrot. This period also marked the start of the vodka industry in Poland (the eastern part of Poland was controlled by the Russian Empire at that time). Vodkas produced by the nobility and clergy became a mass product. The first industrial distillery was opened in 1782 in Lwów by J. A. Baczewski. In 1925, the production of clear vodkas was made a Polish government monopoly.
Poland is part of what is known as the vodka belt of countries, which also includes Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, as well as the Baltic and Nordic states. Vodka was the most popular alcoholic drink in Poland until 1998, when it was surpassed by beer. In contemporary times Poland is home to a wide variety of renowned vodka brands, such as: Absolwent, Belvedere, Chopin, Sobieski, Wyborowa, Żołądkowa Gorzka and many others.