The Story of Vodka

The world seems to be a better place when you have a few slugs of the nectar of life down your throat. This time around, I’m talking about vodka, one of the world’s, and Nepal’s, favorite ice breakers cum spirit enhancer. Vodka, as everybody knows, was born in Eastern Europe, and naturally, it is the most glugged down drink in the countries thereof. Russia, that massive bear of a country, is where vodka is drunk frequently as is water.

And, that’s to be expected, I guess, what with the name, ‘vodka’, originating from the Russian word ‘voda’, meaning ‘water’! And, it’s no surprise that a Russian brand, Smirnoff, tops the list of the world’s best vodkas. It’s a very old brand, let me tell you, and it was founded by a man called Pyotr Smirnov (hence the name) in 1864, when Russia was ruled by the tsars. Two years later, Smirnoff was the tsar’s favorite pick-me-up. Today, there are more than thirty flavors of Smirnoff available throughout the world. Among these, Smirnoff Ice, created in 1999, is the most in demand. Stolichnaya is the next most popular Russian vodka brand, followed by the likes of Pyat Ozer, Belenkaya, Russian Standard, Kauffman, Imperial, and yes that’s right, Hammer & Sickle.

Many assume vodka to be made from potatoes, and indeed, many are so made, but vodka is also made from grains like corn, wheat, barley, etc., as well as from beet, sugar beet, grapes, and sorghum. The quality of water used is, of course, of prime importance, and thus you’ll find many top distilleries located nearby natural springs. The purity of vodka, its major characteristic, comes from multiple distillations and filterings, and while it is flavorless in its original state, there are numerous kinds of flavored vodka, too.

Three of the world’s bestsellers come from Russian neighbor Ukraine, that is, Khortytsa, Khlibnyidar, and Vodka Morosha, while another Ukraine-born vodka, Medoff, is made from a bee pollen residue (propolis), which makes it quite unique among the nectar of the gods. And, Poland is famous for its top-seller, Krupnik. Further away, Sweden’s Absolute is also among the top three most selling vodkas worldwide. It, too, is a very, old brand, founded in 1879. Compared to these ancients, Grey Goose of France may be a relatively new brand (established only in 1996), but it has also carved out a niche among the top sellers, as has America’s Skyy 90, which is 8o proof, meaning it has 40% alcohol by volume, which is the average for most vodkas.

Compare that with Poland’s Spirytus Delikatesowy, which is 192 proof, meaning it’s almost 100% pure alcohol, and so it’s the strongest liquor in the world! Many vodka brands have high alcohol by volume, and that’s one reason for their immense popularity. Go through any list of the world’s most potent liquors, and you can be sure of finding more than a few vodkas in it. This is one reason why there is quite a high percentage of liquor-related deaths in Russia. Of course, one needs to be a bit on the judicious side when drinking such strong liquor. Aside from that, vodka’s clear and clean taste makes it the most mixable liquor, which is why it is such a great base of many famous cocktails.

Cocktails such as the perennial favorites Bloody Mary (vodka and tomato juice), Screwdriver (vodka and orange juice), Cosmopolitan (vodka, cranberry and lime juices, orange liqueur), Vodka Martini (vodka, dry vermouth, and bitters), Moscow Mule (vodka and ginger beer), Sex on the Beach (orange juice, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, and black currant), Long Island Iced Tea (vodka, tequila, light rum, triple sec, gin, and cola), Kamikaze (vodka, triple sec, and lime juice), and Blue Lagoon (vodka, Blue Curacao, and lemon juice), to name a few.

Now, it’s time we delved into Nepal’s very own vodkas. There’s a brand that commands almost ninety percent of the market, can you believe that? Well, that’s what Ruslan Vodka claims very confidently. It promises superior smoothness (triple distilled) and comes at quite a reasonable price. It invested heavily in repackaging and rebranding in the recent past, resulting in a more modern look. A newer brand by the name of Xing touts itself as the sexy vodka (the bottle design strives to depict that, and sexy Sunny Leone is its brand ambassador). There’s one brand called 8848 that has a promo showing two skydivers over the Himalayas carrying a placard bearing the brand’s name. That’s to hammer home its USP, that it uses water from the Himalayas, and is so ‘ultra-pure’ vodka. It uses French wheat and is distilled in France, but the bottling is done here in Nepal. There are other local vodkas, of course, but you can imagine, with one brand capturing the lion’s share of the market, they don’t have much to shout about at the moment!