Things You Didn't Know About Vodka

From the freshman year favorites that hint slightly of rubbing alcohol, to the yo-pro's classic dirty martini, here are some fun facts about our beloved vodka.

Things You Didn't Know About Vodka

With a history potentially dating back to the 8th century, there are probably quite a few interesting things you didn't know about vodka. Vodka and some of its most famous producers like Absolut, Smirnoff, Grey Goose, bring back fond memories, or sometimes lack thereof, for many of us.

Whether your go-to is the classic vodka soda lime, or you prefer to feel the burn more with a straight up martini, we can all appreciate a good vodka drink. Vodka can be produced practically anywhere, but it was born in Eastern Europe, where it still remains primarily produced today. Take a look below and your next party trick can include some of this trivia you didn’t know about vodka.

There’s a geographical region called the Vodka Belt.

The Vodka Belt is like an exclusive society boasting the region that makes up the core of the vodka producing world. With Scandinavia at the Western end, the Belt includes Russia and much of Eastern Europe. Fun fact: this region only recognizes spirits distilled from grain or potatoes as “real vodka.”

Regardless of if the Vodka Belt wants to keep the vodka producers to the OG crew, you can actually make vodka from almost anything you find on the produce shelf. With enough starch or sugar, if it will ferment, you can make vodka from tons of plants and fruits. Think grapes, apples, rice, or even beats...

The “flavorless” flavor of vodka is intentional.

Although most of us don't know much about the technicalities behind vodka, we do know its “flavorless” quality is perfect to mix with almost anything. But the fact that this quality is actually purposeful is one thing you might not have known about vodka.

This is thanks to the Coffey, or column still system. The system keeps the alcohol continuously moving, stripping it of impurities. Most vodka is is distilled a minimum of three times and then charcoal-filtered, but many producers now boast their more distilled brands.

If you’re like me and vodka is just a shot you're trying to get rid of then you probably didn't know that even the flavorless vodkas do have slightly different flavor notes and fragrances.

The history behind Absolut

This is the guy we have to thank for a lot of memories... or not.

The old guy on each bottle of Absolut’s seal is the company’s founder. Lars Olsson Smith created a new way to distill liquor in 1877, resulting in a cleaner, more pure, and flavorless spirit.

As a “f*** you” to the former liquor monopoly in Stockholm, Sweden, Smith set up shop on a nearby island and offered free rides to anyone who wanted to visit. Free rides to a new vodka island- sign me up!

Vodka is not only for drinking.

Originally, vodka was actually used for medicinal purposes. For everything from a toothache to a stomachache, vodka was the answer. And let’s be honest, it certainly does help you forget about any aches you might have.

Vodka can also be used as an aftershave. Combine it with a variety of other ingredients including bay leaves, spices, and rum to create that perfect combination.

In fact, Andy Warhol, American Pop Art icon was known to use Absolut for his aftershave. His use of the product played a huge role to the rise of Absolut’s popularity in the States. He actually centered at least 50 different pieces around the bottle, which he liked for its aesthetics. The simple bottle design is now an icon itself.

Drinking vodka cold is for more than just easing that burn.

For me and probably most other amateur vodka drinkers, drinking the liquor at colder temperatures is what makes the drink enjoyable. There’s actually a scientific reason behind it all. Vodka has a LOT of heat. It´s distilled to a minimum of 40% ABV, but often even higher.

The cold temperatures help to tame the heat and the flavors allowing the richness of the spirit to emerge. So next time make sure you insist on your vodka cold.

The top selling vodka brand was started by a Russian peasant.

From rags to riches...

That's right, Smirnoff was created by Pyotr Smirnov, born an agricultural laborer in a feudal system. Smirnov used the highest quality available ingredients to create his product which he eventually named after the French spelling of his name (Smirnoff).

Smirnov was an ingenious and innovative marketer. He took his product to the poorest neighborhoods, invited everyone over for drinks and then paid them to ask for the same in the local taverns. And just like that, we have a demand. This top selling brand continues to give opportunity to the common man to enjoy high quality vodka. In a New York Times taste test competition in 2005, a $13 bottle of Smirnoff beat out much of its higher priced competition.

Absolut ran the longest, continuous ad campaign in the history of time.

I’m sure you remember these massive ads. They started simple in the 80´s, playing with catchy phrases and using the bottles design to appeal to almost every place or feeling. And then they got creative. Absolut was the first company to incorporate sound and movement into print ads. Over the course of 25 years, Absolut ran 1,500 separate ads, complete with blinking lights and all.

And it paid off.

The campaign ended in 2007 and the company’s share of the American vodka market grew exponentially, from 2.5 percent to 45 percent. America is now the Swedish company’s largest market. To say we respond well to flashy lights and shiny things would be an understatement…

What makes your favorite vodka so great?

We hear the word distilling thrown around a lot when speaking of vodka. So what does this process actually do? Well the more distilled, the more the product is “cleaned” and “pure.” Companies like to boast of more distilled, higher-proof products, which frankly just allows brands to differentiate their offerings more than anything.

After a vodka has been distilled it can still be corrected with additives such as sugar or citric acid. Typically the goal of these additives is to soften the harshness of the liquor. In addition to the alcohol and additives, all vodka contain another key ingredient- water. When buying low cal products, remember it simply means the vodka is diluted with more water. So be careful what you wish for; that low cal drink may not get you too far in terms of your drunk level.

Poland is one of many countries in Eastern Europe who hold vodka dear to their heart.

In 1546 the King of Poland actually issued a decree stating that every citizen had the right to make their own vodka. So although America may be a huge market for vodka, it can be argued that we don’t value it quite as much as those over in Eastern Europe.

Whatever you choose to drink next, remember the birthplace where this all began and the crazy journey that vodka has had along the way.

Sophie Heller
Sophie Heller
Read next: Whiskey: A Guide and History
Sophie Heller

Like most other 20 somethings I'm doing what I can to find my place in this crazy planet. For me that means traveling, enjoying nature, reading, writing and embracing a nomadic lifestyle, always with an open mind and heart.

See all posts by Sophie Heller