The History Of Vodka

Recently, America observed St. Patrick's Day and millions of people around the country celebrated by getting drunk. While most people drank beer, as is customary for the day (especially if it's dyed green), I stuck to vodka. I had screwdrivers, vodka shots, vodka highballs, you name it.

It got me thinking.

Ever since I got to college, the main liquor of choice for college students that I have observed has been vodka. We celebrate birthdays with it, and we reminisce on failed tests with it. It's the reason why I love myself and everything around me on Saturday nights, and it's the reason why I hate myself and my Snap Story on Sunday morning. So let's look at the history and background of our favorite hard liquor: vodka.

"There cannot be not enough snacks, there can only be not enough vodka.
There can be no silly jokes, there can only be not enough vodka.
There can be no ugly women, there can only be not enough vodka.
There cannot be too much vodka, there can only be not enough vodka."

- Russian saying

While most people think that vodka originates from Russia, in actuality, no one can discern if it actually came from Russia or Poland. Russians say that the word "vodka" is derived from the Russian word "voda," which means "water." However, Poles say that vodka actually comes from "woda," the Polish word for "water."

No one knows which country is right, but according to Patricia Herlihy in her book "Vodka: A Global History," the drink "originated somewhere in Eastern Europe, in the region now comprising Russia, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine." Herlihy also offers a third option: that people from the West made a distilled drink that inspired people in the East to come up with what we now call vodka. We may never know the exact birthplace.

Vodka was originally used as medicine and, to this day, some people still utilize it as such. It is used by many Eastern Europeans to cure ailments such as cold sores, sore throats and toothaches, according to Herlihy. But this doesn't mean that whenever someone's sick they just chug a bottle of Svedka. Most of the times, it's applied topically.

The beginning of Russian leaders regulating vodka began in the late 15th century when Ivan III of Russia started heavily taxing it. This continued with Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great. The latter used vodka as a way of testing people who wanted to work for him and even killing his enemies.

In the late 18th century, Catherine the Great "abolished the state monopoly" on vodka, and it became available to "the common people." This was when Russia started "promoting vodka as a national drink," and the two have been linked ever since then.

Even though Russian vodka exports are currently at a 10 year low, they still exported $111.9 million of vodka in 2015, according to Russian business newspaper Kommersant.

So there you have it: a condensed background on the mana-from-heaven that is vodka. We may not know exactly where it come from, but wherever it is, you have the unending gratitude of thousands of college students around the world. On some days you may love it, and on some night you may hate it, but at the end of the day, where would we be without it?

Vashe zrodovye!

Herlihy, Patricia. Vodka: A Global History. London: Reaktion, 2012. Print.

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