Vodka – the spirit of the steppes

The saying that pure water doesn’t ruin the brain could have come from this republic, where mainly beer was historically brewed, and fruit brandies were imbibed – but never clear vodka.

photo: archiv

This alcohol, which you often cannot taste or smell, but which hides, chameleon-like, in cocktails of the most brilliant colors, has colored the entire history of countries and peoples – from the Poles and Russians to the Finns and Swedes. Vodka literally became “liquid bread” for all of them. This is confirmed in the most true-to-life way in a fragment from a letter from Peter the Great, written on a visit to Paris: “We’re down to our last bottle of vodka. I have no idea of what will happen next.” Vodka, which at the very beginning was used for medicinal purposes, contains a charge that is stronger than gunpowder. It has impacted the morale of many armies, and during the so-called “Winter War” of 1939-40, it sent hundreds of tanks with red stars to the Happy Hunting Grounds. It was in the distillery of Alek Rajamäki, where Finlandia Vodka is currently made, that Molotov cocktails were made. These weapons later came to be used by anarchists all around the world. Kerosene, gasoline, and asphalt were topped off by a piece of hemp rope as a fuse…and the Devil’s “pancerfaust” was born. This little known period in the history of vodka was recalled by Finlandia Vodka in 1970, with the slogan, “Finland invaded Russia and won the war (of the vodkas),” and then it commenced its offensive on the enormous American market.
For years vodka had been little appreciated in America. It could be made from almost anything – rotten potatoes or sugar beets, American bartenders would argue. The only descendant of the Smirnov family who managed to escape from the Bolsheviks before the Russian revolution had to contend with a similar mistaken opinion. The clear alcohol got its big break about sixty years ago, when the manager of the Cock N’ Bull bar in California ordered a huge shipment of ginger ale and had a hard time selling it. So he tried to dampen its fiery flavor with alcohol, and he experimented until he came up with vodka. He called this beverage a “Moscow Mule”, saying it had concealed nuclear potential. This worked reliably during the struggles between the two superpowers – everyone wanted to taste “the enemy’s most popular cocktail”. By the 1960s vodka trailed only gin as the most-consumed potable. Today it’s far and away the best-selling alcohol in the world, and serves as the base for thousands of cocktails. But in the places of its birth, they say straight and ice-cold is still the only to enjoy its hot, warming breath.

The author is the deputy editor-in-chief of Esquire magazine.


  Photo: Věroslav Sixt

Safe stirring! The “Lonzo” cocktail spoon by Zack will come in quite handy when mixing your favorite party drinks, or for pulling out a piece of fruit from a batch of sangria. All stainless steel construction means you don’t have to worry about keeping it dry. CZK 390

Available at: Naoko, Revoluční 24, Praha 1



While there are hundreds of variants, and every bartender makes it differently, it is still based on pure vodka. To 3 cl of vodka, add 2 cl of orange triple sec (Cointreau or Grand Marnier), 2 cl of lime juice, and 3 cl of cranberry juice, a great favorite in the US. Mix the ingredients in a shaker filled with ice cubes, then strain it into a chilled cocktail glass.
Photographed in cooperation with hotel Radisson SAS Alcron


Finlandia, 700 ml, 40%
It takes two kilograms of barley to make one liter of Finlandia Vodka, and recently Agent 007 ordered it onscreen for his signature martini.
Price for bottle: cca 339 Kč

Danzka, 700 ml, 40%
It has enjoyed considerable success thanks to its unbreakable metal bottle, which can be cooled more quickly than glass bottles. And now it’s the first brand ever to be grapefruit-flavored.
Price for bottle: cca 320 Kč

Smirnoff, 700 ml, 40%
In the past it was delivered exclusively to the Czar’s court, thanks to its purity as a result of triple filtration through charcoal made from birch wood. Today it’s a purebred American, but with Russian blood in its veins.
Price for bottle: cca 311 Kč

Vodka 42, 500 ml, 42%
It has a logo that appears only after it’s properly chilled, and 2% more alcohol than the competition. It flows easily along the tongue and cools the throat before a warm feeling envelops your entire body.
Price for bottle: cca 140 Kč.

Vodka Amundsen Energy, 1000 ml, 17,7%
The response from Stock of Plzeň to the wide variety of Absolut flavors. This particular mix is a bomb with a fuse of taurine and caffeine.
Price for bottle: cca 140 Kč.






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