Polish Language Blog

Na Zdrowie – My Top Polish Vodkas Posted by on May 8, 2010 in Culture

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.

1. Chopin
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!

2. Belvedere
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.

3. Sobieski
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

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  1. Ian Shine:

    Moje ulubione wódki:

    Czysta Żołądkowa Gorzka

  2. Sam:

    I agree wholeheartedly. I think Sobieski wodka is the best cheap vodka out there.

  3. Sylwia:

    And how long ago were you in Poland? Are they paying you for advertising because you mentioned three Polish Vodkas one can buy in the US?
    The best Polish Vodka that is not available here is Wyborowa. It is not because I say so; it is because all of the rankings on the Polish websites are ranking it that way.

  4. Michael:

    Myślę że dużo polaków piją Finlandia.

  5. Karola:

    I agree with you, Chopin vodka is splendid!

    “…if I don’t make haste, I shall have to go back through the looking-glass…back into the old room-and there’d be an end of all my adventures!”
    Sending my ‘curiouser & curiouser’ happy thoughts through the looking-glass.
    ♡ Ƙarola

  6. Rose:

    Wow, this sounds like a list of foreigner favorites. Every Polish person I know would have Luksusowa and Zubrowka front and center on any list of favorites. They are both very hard to buy in the US though:(

  7. Karola:

    Where can I buy real Polish Zubrowka? I would love to get a bottle for my son now 22 years old. He loves to embrace his Polish heritage especially with ‘spirits’. When he turned 21 I bought a box of beers from around the world. He shared them with his fraternity buddies. He really enjoyed the Polish beer.
    Thanks! Love reading these blogs.

  8. MiMaS:

    If you are looking for a real Polish taste there are only two vodkas to try:
    – Żołądkowa Gorzka (bison grass vodka)
    – Żubrowka (bitter vodka for the stomach)
    I’ve met a lot of foreigners visiting my country and for sure these two are the most memorable tastes…

  9. MiMaS:

    Damn…. of course the translation is opposite:

    – Żołądkowa Gorzka (bitter vodka for the stomach)
    – Żubrowka (bison grass vodka)

    Sorry… :-/

  10. Michael:

    Anyway, what happened to Adam, he didn’t last long?!

  11. Katarzyna:

    Okay, okay everyone. I am in the States, and my reviews are biased by what I can readily access. So I get it, I do. It has been a LONG time since I have had Wyborowa and Żubrowka, both of which I enjoyed. HOWEVER, I did not use the same rating scale. So to be fair, I went with what I can access. Now, I am not opposed to receiving rare imports 😉 And speaking of which, this weekend, for Mother’s Day here in the States, I received a bottle of Spirytus already blended with a delicious smelling sok wiśniowy 🙂 Na zdrowie to me baby!!!

    I promise, when I make a return visit to Poland (soon, I hope), I will be doing A LOT of research and taking copious notes 🙂 So give me a little slack 😉 and share your opinions 🙂 What are your top 3, and, more importantly, WHY? The way I see it, it will open people’s eyes to all the wonderful options that Polish vodka offers and I personally love hearing other opinions!

    And PS, if you haven’t tried Chopin, you really should. That vodka will give any Polish or other country’s vodka a run for its money 🙂

  12. sila:

    i tasted krupnik (not the soup) in poland and loved it

  13. seba:


    i just think this is stereotypical to imply that vodka plays such a role in the life of poles. i think it bases on the wrong notion that the working class represents all poles.

    it is not right to talk about entertaining with vodka and not mention social class. vodka traditions come from the countryside (and workers, who recently moved from the countryside). this could be a good starting point to a good social alalysis. how many people live in the countryside? what were the trends in social mobility in 20th century? how big is the middle class, and how it became a majority within the recent years.

    statistics clearly show, contrary to stereotypes alhocol consuption is lower than in most european countries. and within that 9% of alcohol users are responsible for 50% of the whole alcohol consumption. so it means that there is a number of people who get very drunk regularly, alcoholics, and a majority, who drink very rarely.

  14. Paulina:

    I would also mention “bimber” which is a colloquial name for home-made strong alcohol (“moonshine”?). Even though it’s illegal many people make their own alcohol, especially “nalewka” made from vodka or spirit (with water, so it has 40-50%) and any kind of ingredients (fruits, herbs).

    Pure spirit is also useful, I add it to tiramisu and it’s the best:)

  15. Karola:

    My son made Vodka spaghetti sauce once in his adventures of cooking on his own. But I said to him what’s the point of vodka sauce I’d rather just drink it. Many years ago my dad brought some Spirytus from Poland and soaked cherries in it. OMGoodness! The Spirytus became a sweet liquior but the cherries on their own were like heaven! 😉 Never thought of adding it to tiramisu. Maybe a torte!

  16. James Madura:

    While I truly enjoy potato vodkas, and the Chopin is one of them, you should try Ultimat, an expensive but spectacular premium vodka. We generally drink a potato vodka “Luksusowa” which is as good as the premiums brands but at about 1/2 the price. Try it, you’ll like it.

  17. Andrzej z Wołynia:

    My go-to vodka is unquestionably wódka Wyborowa. My dad, a vet of the Polish II Corps, thinks it has the best taste and he has tried them all in his time. Even now he has a shot almost everyday and he turns 88 next month! I tried a bottle of Pan Tadeusz last week and it was quite good.

    For an answer to a previous post, if you’re in Canada and looking for a bottle of Żubrówka produced by Polmos, you should contact their Canadian reps, Peter Mielzynski Agencies, http://www.pmacanada.com/home.php , or in Ontario visit your local LCBO and ask for Item #35840. Peter usually likes to import some of the more esoteric Polish Spirits for the Christmas season including a half-decent wiśniówka.

  18. warmi:

    “The best Polish Vodka that is not available here is Wyborowa. It is not because I say so; it is because all of the rankings on the Polish websites are ranking it that way.”

    Neither of them is “good” as in “tasty” …. I mean unless you mix them up with something, they all make you cringe and ultimately reach for a coke or ( if you are a hardcode type , an onion or something along these lines)

  19. Bozena:

    I’m a red wine person but my husband’s favourite is zoladkowa gorzka…
    As to our polish nation we did drink a lot but that was like 20 years ago. We were a communist republic and we were not allowed to do anything. There was nothing on the TV or radio, no cinema, no nothing. What else could we have been doing for social purposes? Moreover, back in the days when we lived in the shadow of ZSRR we were encouraged to drink because a drunken nation is a slow nation, easy to lead and easy to control. That has all changed. Thank goodness.

  20. Chad:

    I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to take many trips to Poland. I only have two preferences as of right now:

    1. Żubrówka – My favorite vodka… the finish is smooth and it has a unique flavor. Everyone to whom I’ve introduced this vodka has enjoyed it.
    2. Sobieski – It’s just good. Very popular for weddings, including my own 😉

    Fun trivia item… in Germany Żubrówka is labeled “Grasovka” – what a literal translation!

  21. Adam:


    Trying them out now Poland rules the Vodka world

  22. Polska wódka:

    I recommend try a legendary J.A. Baczewski based on potato spirits

  23. steve:

    1. Wyborowa , simply the best tasting vodka.
    2. Chopin…was number 1 until i tried Wyborowa. i can’t justify paying the extra.
    3. Belvedere…Delish and smooth. very appealing taste and texture.
    4. Luksusova….best vodka to mix, delicious.
    5. Ultimate…great straight, no burn. but in a martini i’d take flavor over no flavor, Wyborowa wins
    6. Extra Zytnia….a good mild vodka that grows on you
    7. Sobieski….my least favourite, no flavor, seriously, i taste nothing. a bland vodka in a martini or mixed drink, look elsewhere , this sells from marketing. nothing special.