Russian Vodka

According to a legend, around 1430, a monk inside the Moscow Kremlin made a recipe of the first Russian vodka. Having a special knowledge and distillation devices, he became the creator of a new, higher quality type of alcoholic beverage. This "bread wine", as it was initially known, was for a long time produced exclusively in the Grand Duchy of Moscow and in no other principality of Russia. Thus, this beverage was closely associated with Moscow.

Commercial production was established by the 14th century. In 1540 Czar Ivan the Terrible took a break from beheading his enemies and established the first government Vodka monopoly. Distilling licenses were handled out to the boyars (the nobility) and all other distilleries were banned. Needless to say, moonshining became endemic.

Vodka production became an integral part of Russian society. Aristocratic landowners operated stills on their estates and produced high-quality Vodkas which were frequently flavored with everything from acorns to horseradish to mint. The Czars maintained test distilleries at their country palaces where the first experiments in multiple redistillations were made. In 1780 a scientist at one such distillery invented the use of charcoal filtration to purify Vodka.

By the 18th and well into the 19th century the Russian Vodka industry was probably the most technologically advanced industry in the nation. New types of stills and production techniques from Western Europe were eagerly imported and utilized. State funding and control of Vodka research continued. Under a 1902 law, "Moscow Vodka," a clear 40% ABV rye Vodka made with soft "living" (undistilled) water and without added flavorings was established as the benchmark for Russian Vodka.

The Soviet Union continued government control of Vodka production. All distilleries became government-owned, and while the Communist Party apparatchiks continued to enjoy high-quality rye Vodka, the proletariat masses had to make do with cheap spirits. The societal attitude toward such products could be best summed up by the curious fact that mass-produced Vodka was sold in liter bottles with a non-screw cap. Once you opened the bottle it couldnt be resealed. You had to drink it all in one session.

Vodka production in the current Russian Federation has returned to the pre-Revolutionary pattern. High-quality brands are once again being produced for the new social elite and export, while the popularly priced brands are still being consumed, well, like voda. Today, some popular Russian vodka producers or brands are (amongst others) Stolichnaya and Russian Standard.