Historical story

Were Poles the first to start producing vodka?

The production of vodka on the Vistula River has a long and rich history, but can we take the lead in this field? Or maybe someone else warned us?

It is difficult to give the exact date of the appearance of vodka in Poland. However, as Tomasz Lachowski writes in the publication entitled "J.A. BACZEWSKI. The only such vodka, the only such history ”, its history can be traced back several centuries:

[ most likely already - ed. R. K. ] at the end of the 14th century, in the area between the Vistula and the Oder, a drink called vodka was produced and consumed (it was said to have healing properties, although it had a mercilessly burning taste).

In turn, the word vodka (wodco) was first recorded in 1405 in the chronicles of the land court of the Sandomierz province. It also appeared in the inventory of the properties of the city of Dąbrówka, drawn up 30 years later. However, be careful. Well:

in Old Polish "vodka" meant only a ditch filled with water or a small pond - it was only in the following centuries that the word was given the meaning that is used to this day.

The new drink was quickly gaining popularity, and its production was associated with considerable income. Therefore, the nobility, not wanting to share their profits with other states, introduced propination, i.e. a law that allows only to produce and sell alcoholic beverages. As a result, as Lachowicz aptly notices:

The propination provided enormous income for the nobility, but in the end it made all distilleries operating locally - as some historians conclude, the chance to make perfect Polish liquors of one of the most important export products .

It was only at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries that serious vodka producers appeared in Poland. One of the first was the Lviv company of J.A. Baczewski, whose products returned to Polish stores after several decades.

Only the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries changed this state of affairs, and serious producers appeared on Polish lands. The factory of Polish vodkas and liqueurs by Jakób Haberfeld in Oświęcim, the factory of vodka J. Prochownik in Poznań, the factory of Counts Potocki in Łańcut and the factory of vodkas and liqueurs of J.A. Baczewski in Lviv.

The latter has become one of the most recognizable brands of pre-war Poland . Its products poured into beautiful decanters - which a few years ago returned to stores after seven decades - were particularly popular among the elites of the Second Polish Republic.

In the nineteenth century, one should also look for the beginnings of the heated dispute between Poles and Russians about who first started producing vodka. At the turn of the 1970s and 1980s, the case was allegedly based - as William Vasilyevich Pochlebkin claimed in "The History of Vodka" - even relied on a special tribunal. It was precisely for him that Pochlebkin was supposed to conduct archival research and - as Tomasz Lachowski writes in the album "J.A. BACZEWSKI. The only such vodka, the only such story "- as a result of them he allegedly established that the drink had been produced in Russia from around 1430:

the method of producing vodka was to be mastered by Isidor - a monk from the Moscow Chudowski Monastery - and it was he who had the knowledge and constructed the apparatus for distilling alcohol from fermented grain. This top-quality liquor, produced for decades exclusively for the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Moscow, was then called "bread wine" (or "table wine") […].

Baczewski's products enjoyed great popularity among the elite of pre-war Poland.

Finally, in 1982, a mysterious tribunal decided that the story of the monk Isidore mentioned above and his drink is true. Poles unfortunately were not able to present any documents confirming that their vodka was produced before "bread wine" ("table wine") appeared on the tables . Therefore, the Russians were right in the dispute - or so it appears from their documents.

However, everything indicates that Pochlebkin made up the whole story with the monk Isidore and a mysterious tribunal, because, as Tomasz Lachowski emphasizes, "despite the searches, no evidence could be found" to confirm the Russian's theses. So will the dispute over who first started producing vodka ever be resolved?


Trivia is the essence of our website. Short materials devoted to interesting anecdotes, surprising details from the past, strange news from the old press. Reading that will take you no more than 3 minutes, based on single sources. This particular material is based on the book:

  • Tomasz Lachowski, J.A. BACZEWSKI. One and only vodka, one such story , Warsaw 2017.