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Cold. Ice cold. That's how I like my vodka martinis and the weather we most associate with its country of origin: Russia. Before it became the only thing Diddy promoted, vodka has endured a long and tough road to reach the height it has today. This is … a brief history of vodka.
The Origin: Vodka = Water?
The origins of vodka are as clear as redacted lines in Putin’s KGB file. In the 1970s, Soviet historians had “proof” that Isidore the Monk from the Chudov Monastery created the first form of vodka in 1430.
Poland also lays a claim and we’re not taking sides per se but, the word itself is rooted in the Russian word for water: Voda.
It was coined by the famous Russian chemist Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev, who was known for the Periodic Law; more importantly, he named vodka! We can all read between the redacted lines here, right? Cool.
From Medicine to Money Maker
Despite the origins being in dispute, what we do know is vodka’s main use back then: medicinal purposes; as a disinfectant, antiseptic, and fever reducer. Though it was far from what we know it as today. It was crudely made; often using wood alcohol, which made it smell like kerosene, and sold in buckets.
It was only in the 16th century that vodka suddenly became popular; local taverns began making and selling their own vodka.
But like all drunk ideas, they sound good only when drunk. Soon a third of the male population was deep in debt to the taverns and were too drunk to even cultivate their land. Contrary to his name, the Russian Tsar: Ivan the Terrible, saw the positive in this situation.
He decided to replenish his treasury by introducing high taxes on vodka and setting up a network of taverns across the land to distribute it.
This made vodka so popular that by the 17th-century vodka had become the national drink of Russia and was regularly served at the Royal Court during celebrations and religious ceremonies.
Taking it Global
At the turn of the 20th century, life in Russia took a turn. A disagreement known as the Russian Revolution brought big changes, one of the things it did was push the population toward Western Europe.
We’ll have to look at this with “USSR issued rose glasses”; those who left brought their vodka with them, thus spreading it across the world.
It was only in the 1930s when Piotr Smirnov bought the American rights of the Smirnoff vodka, that vodka introduced itself to the American public.
However, it still had not taken off as expected. After a few or multiple bankruptcies — yay capitalism— their company, Smirnoff, managed to enter the cultural zeitgeist with its brand being introduced in the first James Bond movie, “Dr. No”, and forever links the Vodka Martini with the immortal phrase: “Shaken, not stirred.”
Na Zdorovie my friends! To Vodka! Let us marvel at the evolution vodka has been through; from being slopped into wood buckets, to then being shaken and poured neatly into a delicate martini glass.
If that doesn’t inspire you to have ice-cold martini to celebrate, then I don’t know what does.