The weekend is here! And what better way to start the weekend than with a cocktail to unwind? Well, today’s post is a Polish-focused review of some tasty libations from the mother country.
In Poland, and in Polish homes here in the US, alcohol consumption is an essential part of social tradition. I remember, growing up, one of the most important errands my Dad had to complete before a birthday party, dinner party or any other celebration was to go to the liquor store. He had to make sure he had a few traditional liquors for mixers for the ladies, and, by and far the most important, a few good bottles of vodka (wódka) to drink with the men. The vodka was used for mixers too, but more often consumed straight, as a shot.
Poland has a rich, long history of distilling some of the most wonderful vodkas in the world. They are widely known for using potatoes, but are also well-known for using rye (żyto), spelt (pszenica orkisz), as well as some less traditional ingredients like honey (miód), molasses (melasa) and even sugar beets (buraki cukrowe). Vodkas in Poland come in three general varieties. There are some flavored vodkas, called wódki wytrawne, which are flavored with herbs, grasses, flowers or roots and represent the area they are made. Pure, unflavored vodka is called wódka czysta, translating as “clean vodka”, which essentially means they are clear and free of any additives. Then there are the other flavored vodkas, not to be confused with those mentioned previously, which have flavors added, both natural and artificial. These include the popular flavors of vanilla, lemon, cherry or orange. Vodkas in this category are called wódki smakowe, which translates to “taste vodkas”. The difference between the flavored groups is how they are actually flavored. The wytrawne are made with the infusion of the herb or root into the vodka. The smakowe‘s flavor is an additive, but I think it’s more gimmick that anything else.
I have been fortunate to sample several Polish vodkas. So without further adieu, here are my top three that I have had to date. Needless to say, this is a fun research item for me, so stay tuned for more as I quench my thirst and review. For the review, one of my favorite cocktails, and my usual if you want to call it that, is a vodka tonic. Yum. And it’s even better when made with a smooth Polish vodka. I usually rate a vodka first by taking a shot of it alone, then final judgment is how it mingles with my lime and tonic.
Chopin vodka is distilled from a favorite starch used in Polish cuisine, the potato (ziemniak or kartofel). It is one of the smoothest vodkas I have ever tried. And I know vodkas are pure alcohols, so it is tough to claim they have a taste, but they do. And this one I think is a little sweet, possibly from the distillation from a starch? I don’t know. I do know that I like the mild sweetness when it hits, then a nice mild burn, followed by no aftertaste whatsoever. And drinking this vodka mingled with a lime (limonka) and tonic (tonik) is like heaven in a glass (niebo w szklance) for me. This vodka is as smooth as its namesake’s piano sonatas… sorry, I just had to! Just delicious!
This vodka is from the same makers of Chopin, however it is a golden rye-based vodka versus it’s potato-based cousin. This one too is very smooth to me. I don’t think it is sweet – a little bitter actually, however, it really has a vanilla-like (waniliowy) flavor to it and if I could call a vodka creamy, this would be a vanilla creamy kind of vodka. The burn on this one is far moderate, and it definitely leaves a lingering after-taste of vanilla. Mixed with lime and tonic, this too is one of the smoothest drinks you will ever swallow.
The top two on my list are a bit pricier than this one. This one I like to keep in the house as the good standy-by. It’s fairly inexpensive and NEVER disappoints. Named after the last great King of Poland, Sobieski is a vodka made from Dankowski rye. This one too is bitter, however, it does have a sweet finish. There is little to no burn going down, and that sweet finish makes this a great shot. And at the price, this is one you keep chilled and have available at whim to mix with tonic or your choice of mixer.
So, there are my top three vodkas for now. They make terrific shots and even tastier drinks. Tell me what you think, and better yet, share some of your favorite Polish vodkas or recipes in our comments! And remember, every shot always goes down better with a Na Zdrowie!
Do następnego czytania…
In writing this post, I came across an article that suggested that Poles were fundamentally bred to drink, and the government did little to restrict consumption. The reason stated was that the revenue received from the Polish alcohol industry, which until 1990 was a government monopoly, was too important, and discouraging excessive drinking would be detrimental to profits. I think this brings up a very interesting point of discussion, and I look forward to reading your comments.
Here is the article from the US Library of Congress: http://countrystudies.us/poland/45.htm