When thinking about Eastern Europe, and the concoctions and cocktails you might try, you’ll undoubtedly think of the standard – the Russian Standard. Furthermore, what Russians seemingly do better than anyone else is obvious – vodka.
However, Russians aren’t the only Europeans that know how to make a great vodka, and the new kid on the block really isn’t that new. In fact, Poland has been making great vodka for hundreds of years!
The next time you’re in Warsaw, and you’re in need of a good, stiff drink, give these seven great Polish vodkas a try!
While far from the newest Vodka on the list, Belvedere is perhaps the Polish vodka best known to westerners, thanks in part to great marketing and brand awareness campaigns. While you would think Belvedere’s history is extensive, it’s only been made since 1993, making it more like Tito’s than Absolut, which dates back to 1879.
Winner of Vodka Producer of the Year for three straight years at the International Spirits Challenge, and is a trusted centerpiece for any vodka cocktail. Belvedere has a smooth base brand of vodka, but is increasingly becoming known for infused, flavored options such as Orange, Citrus, and Mango Passion.
The Sobieski company began making liquors in the 1840s, but really didn’t focus on vodka production until the post-war society of the 1940s left them with limited resources and the need to specialize. Today, Sobieski is one of the most well-known vodka brands coming out of Poland – with good reason.
A pure rye vodka, Sobieski is a “back to basics” brand that, while dabbling in flavored options, really hangs its hat on being a simply done and very precisely made vodka for discriminating tastes. What we love about it, however, is that it mixes well and goes down smoothly.
As Sobieski continues to rise in popularity, it’s entered the “flavor” market, and now produces some of the most natural tasting flavored vodkas on the market.
In terms of tradition, Baczewski is as synonymous to Polish vodka as Guinness is to Irish beers.
It’s a simply made vodka that has used essentially the same recipe since the founding of the distillery in 1781, and is today one of the few vodkas distilled entirely from fermented potatoes. There’s something about that traditional potato vodka, however, and this is a brand that only gets better the cooler it’s served.
Try it as a sipping cordial, and notice the traditional and clean finish.
Wódka Żołądkowa Gorzka
Wódka Żołądkowa Gorzka, simply Żołądkowa, is a mid-1900s polish vodka based off a much older recipe, and is in fact very traditional in nature.
The name means “bitter vodka for the stomach”, and hearkens back to the days when alcohol (and especially vodka) was made as much for its therapeutic capabilities as for its delicious, buzz-giving qualities. In fact, Żołądkowa is still classified as a traditional Nalewka – a herbal tincture produced in Poland at least dating back to the 16th century.
Its status as a traditional medicinal alcohol aids in the flavors Żołądkowa still maintains – including vodkas infused with honey, black cheery, bison grass, and even peppermint. Don’t consider this a non-vodka, however, as Żołądkowa remains an international award-winning vodka that’s respected and renown worldwide.
Dębowa is another polish vodka that reminds one of an earlier past of vodka distillation and herbal tinctures, and how those worlds have traditionally crossed paths.
The name, meaning “Oak Vodka” doesn’t quite complete description of this vodka created with Black Elderflower and Oak. Its an earthy brand, offering a variety of flavors including chocolate, walnut, coffee, and natural plant extracts.
Chopin isn’t a brand with a particularly deep history, and it isn’t simply a local vodka. While Chopin can be picked up anywhere from Poland to Portland, its reputation as a classic, simple, and elegant vodka is well-deserved.
Its a one-ingredient recipe – being four-times distilled from either potato, rye, or wheat, depending on the make. It’s a popular recipient of awards at national competitions, regularly rating 90% or higher, and upholding the standard of quality shared by the famous composer for whom it is named.
One of the oldest continually-made Polish vodkas, Luksusowa is a staple on European drink menus.
The name Luksusowa means “luxury”, which is no surprise as its a favored vodka for mixologists with a eye on traditional, clean, and pure vodkas for the educated drinker. It’s popular for a reason, accounting for about 10% of the overall vodka market in Poland.
While Luksusowa offers flavored variety, it’s a vodka you want to taste. Try it simply done with soda water and a squirt of lime for a classy, clean cocktail.
The next time you’re in Europe, look beyond the standard European favorite vodkas and ask for one of these polish classics. The deep history, variety, and skill exhibited in the making of these vodkas leave no doubt that polish vodkas are among the best in the world.
So, sit down with a great polish-crafted cocktail, in Europe or no matter where you are – just be sure to say Twoje zdrowie! Cheers!