While out at your favorite bar or sitting down for brunch, you’ve likely heard or ordered yourself a Moscow Mule, Bloody Mary, or the all-time favorite, a Vodka Soda. That’s because vodka is one of the most popular and commonly ordered spirits, and for good reason. Vodka is easily mixed with most juices and sodas and is one of the “healthier” liquor choices for those that are keeping an eye on their calorie intake.

Vodka has been a staple for centuries  the history of vodka is a long and winding road to the bar classic it is today. The story of the vodka craft is extensive, and just as with other spirits, geography plays a huge role.

ancient vodka tools


Why Is Vodka Called Vodka?

The name “Vodka” comes from the Russian word ‘voda’ which translates, simply, to water – in Poland, vodka was an umbrella term that referred to any clear liquid distillate. Both Russia and Poland claim to be the first to discover vodka, and while it is still up for debate who the inventor of this spirit really is, it is a spirit that has been around since the Middle Ages.

Early Days of Vodka

The first known vodka production began towards the end of the 9th century, followed 200 years later by the first distillery, established in Khylnovsk, Russia. Around 1450, Vodka was in full mass production, and by the 16th century, Vodka was officiated as the national drink of Russia.

Vodka continued to spread in familiarity across Europe, increasing its popularity. Russia was now competing with neighboring countries such as Prussia, Poland, and Lithuania to create the perfect distillation process. In the 18th century, charcoal purification was discovered, cleansing out the impurities that accompanied the end result of vodka distillation.

The Napoleonic Wars escalated the demand for vodka production, leading to lower quality products to meet the increased needs. Failed attempts at controlling production led to the 1894 law to make vodka production a Russian monopoly. Finally, at the end of the 19th century, a standard protocol for vodka production was enacted, and the Vodka name became officially and formally recognized.

Eventually, Vodka spread to other nations, including the US. It saw its rise in popularity during the 60s and 70s, thanks to the introduction of the beloved Moscow Mule.

The rest is history.


How Is Vodka Made?

The process of making vodka begins with grains, the most common being rye, wheat, and potatoes.

In its early stages, vodka was only distilled once. Producers of vodka quickly realized the benefits of multiple distillations, which helped to cleanse the impurities and produce a higher alcohol content. To aid the crude earlier methods of production, fruit, herbs or spices were common additives that helped mask any imperfections.

Standards of Vodka

To be considered up to standard, there are a few requirements when making a batch of vodka.

In the US, vodka has an average standard of 80 proof, or an ABV of 40%, although there are exceptions like Switch Vodka, which has an ABV of 30%. The EU has a slightly different standard, allowing vodka makers to have a minimum 37.5% ABV.

Vodka has always typically been a clear or foggy-white color. Later on, flavors and additives were introduced as an alternative to the strongly aromatic, strong-tasting pure vodkas. creating a variety of vodkas to choose from at the liquor store or bar.

old vodka distiller


The traditions around vodka vary, depending on where you’re at in the world. However, there are a few known traditions which have lasted through the ages, according to Russia Beyond:

  1. The “penalty” shot was introduced by Peter the Great, who tried to train his subordinates not to be late. He forced tardy employees to down a 1.5 liter glass of vodka in one go – though your friends likely won’t ask you to drink more than a shot worth…we hope.
  2. Another steadfast tradition with Russians is that breaks are off the table between your first and second drink – meaning, no snacks allowed! Russians believed that food in between drinks would lower the alcohol volume. If you’re headed to a Russian friends party, or visiting the Vodka motherland, we suggest dining before the celebration begins.
  3. Toasts are also commonplace throughout the drinking period, such as the popular toast to one’s health, toast “Vashe zdorovye!” (“For your health!”), linked back to the medicinal tinctures that Vodka was used for.
  4. When a guest is ready to leave, a Russian host may offer one last beverage “for the road.” In Russian, it sounds like “for a walking stick (“napososhok”).” In earlier days, a guest necked a small glass that was placed on a stick’s handle but if the glass fell (due to poor balance) one would have to stay at the party all night to avoid “a bad road” – that’s one way to perform a breathalyzer test!
  5. Once you pour vodka into glasses, you should immediately move the bottle from the table. This tradition began during the Napoleonic Wars. After the Battle of Paris in 1814, Russian Cossacks noticed that the number of drinks people were charged for was calculated by the number of bottles left on the table in local restaurants – which is why Cossacks cleverly hid them underneath their table.

There are many entertaining traditions that accompany the history of Vodka, thanks to its popularity among the masses.

traditional vodka distiller


While vodka remains one of the most popular drinks and spirits, the uses for this spirit has changed since its initial discovery. Prior to being consumed as an alcoholic beverage, vodka was well known for its medicinal purposes, as well as its benefits in creating gunpowder.

Medicinally, vodka was used as an antiseptic to disinfect wounds, as well as to numb areas of pain. Doctors in Poland and Russia often used these vodka tinctures to help and treat wounded patients and soldiers, as well as they did with pills, herbs, and other medicinal concoctions. According to gunpowder production, alcohol and explosives pair well together. In order to do an alcohol-proof test on the gunpowder being created, one would mix an alcoholic spirit with gunpowder and then attempt to ignite it.

Vodka has since evolved from medicinal and weaponry use, and into a beverage to be enjoyed in a variety of ways. From pure vodka to flavored mixtures, vodka continues to be developed into something for everyone.


We respect the history of vodka, and have taken the process and perfected it. We like to think that Switch Vodka is a brand the Polish and Russians would enjoy, due to its ingredients, integrity to the history of vodka, and how it’s distilled through our iStill Distilling Process.

iStill distilling is a more technologically advanced, modern process. The distilling process is a science – precise measurements, temperatures, and timing create a better tasting result. The iStill allows Switch Vodka to have full control and pinpoint every specific detail, to a near-perfect flavor and consistency. Hence the better-tasting, highest quality Vodka produced in every bottle.

Looking to try our vodka? Now you can order our vodka online!

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