Forget Everything You Thought You Knew About Flavored Vodka
Though the Russians may lay claim as the culture most closely associated with the vodka, one would be wise not to forget the Poles, who have been distilling the spirit since the Middle Ages.
Though potato vodka is probably the style most closely associated with Poland, the truth is there are a myriad of styles that the culture has mastered over the last few centuries. One interesting aspect of polish drinking culture is that clear vodkas are not as ubiquitous as one might think: typically being reserved for mixing, gifts, or special occasions. When it comes to drinking at a bar or event, shots of flavored vodka are preferred.
Now we know that the typical North American vodka drinker is probably thinking: that a night spent doing shot after shot of birthday cake-flavored Pinnacle just seems a little bit like a sorority party gone wrong.
But flavored vodka is a different breed in Poland, known as ‘nalewka’: it’s more nuanced and generally flavored naturally, almost like a liqueur. From elements of cherry, to honey, and even grass, these vodkas are a more grown-up version of the candy-like nonsense that has proliferated liquor store shelves stateside. These are unique spirits worth seeking out for someone that wants that extra bit of depth in their liquor cabinet.
So maybe it’s time to explore some of the depth this vodka producing heavyweight has on offer with a few of our favorite brands.
Debowa: The name literally means “Oak Vodka”, which brings to mind visions of whiskey and wine before it does a clear spirit. Using an ancient recipe based primarily on black elderflower and oakwood, this vodka brings forth flavors of baked desserts: spicy, nutty, with elements on vanilla and honey.
Krupnik: A sweet vodka made form honey and herbs, this spirit proves to as delicious as it is dangerously drinkable. In the cold winter months, this vodka is the foundation of a popular warm drink combining hot water, honey, and lemon.
Goldwasser: The pride of Gdańsk since 1598, Goldwasser is an elixir characterized by the 22 karat gold flakes floating in it (who knew there was an option beyond Goldshlagger?). One of the oldest liqueurs in the world, Goldwasser’s tightly guarded recipe contains some 20 roots and herbs, combining to create a sweet, but spicy flavur with touches of anise, pepper and mint.
Żubrówka: One of the more ubiquitous offerings available outside of Poland, Żubrówka has been produced there since the 16th century. Flavored with a type of grass specific to the primeval Białowieża Forest that straddles the border (a blade of which appears in each bottle), the spirit is faintly yellow in color, with a mild fragrance of fresh cut grass and hay. Delightfully smooth as it is on its own, Żubrówka is most commonly combined with apple juice – a concoction called a ‘tatanka.’
Stawski Wisniowka: Undoubtedly the most common flavored vodka in Poland, Wiśniówka is a cheap, dangerously easy-drinking cherry-flavored spirit. It’s a drink you’ll see consumed by everyone from university students out on the town, to pensioners enjoying a nip on a park bench. Be warmed that it’s easy to overdo it, because while its sweet taste makes it easy to enjoy shot after shot, its natural sugar content spells a life-ending hangover the next morning.
Davna Hani: This vodka is probably the closest to what many american-market flavored vodkas are trying to be: an experience of something so sweet and tasty that it borders on being a drinkable desert. Made from naturally-sourced local honey, this vodka doesn’t just bring to mind flavors of sweetness, but also a natural floral note that can only be achieved through the labor of those bees. Chilled and served straight up, it’s no wonder this is a Polish favorite.