While Russians stake a claim to having the first vodka, Poland doesn't seem to mind the silver medal in that regard. Instead, Poles pride themselves on producing the world's best vodka, a testament to their millennium of fine-tuning the spirit.
Poles first crafted vodka from the surplus of potatoes grown throughout the country somewhere between the 8th and 11th century, depending on who you ask. However, these vodkas — known as gorzalka — were used mostly for medicinal purposes, although no one's really sure what kind of medicine.
In the 16th century, the first treatise was written on Polish vodka, establishing a set of rules for distillation while also focusing on the benefits of the vodka — only this time, vodka was more than just a medicine. It became a lust inducer and fertility booster.
While that assumption has arguably been made for the five centuries since then, the distillation process has become much more sophisticated, with Polish vodkas distilled from potatoes, rye, barley, wheat, oats or triticale. Polish vodka also comes in a variety of flavors, ranging from czysta (clear) to fruits to buffalo grass.
The most popular brands include Belvedere, Chopin, Sobieski and Luksosowa, although the 600-year-old Zubrowka is one of the oldest continuously distilled spirits in the world. Unlike Russian vodka, Polish is traditionally chilled, served out of a shot glass and drunk in one gulp. It's a social affair, so always make sure to have others around when drinking. Once you find your favorite brand, make sure to yell "na zdrowie!" — the Polish toast meaning "to your health."
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