If you thought that vodka was invented in Russia, then you haven’t heard Poland’s side of the story. The earliest document that mentions vodka was written in the Polish town of Sandomierz back in 1404. Vodka is widely available in shops and bars all over Poland. If you’re keen to learn about the importance of vodka to Polish people, here are a few recommended activities for curious vodka enthusiasts.
For a real treat, take yourself to the relatively unknown town of Sandomierz in south-eastern Poland. Back in 1404, the word ‘vodka’ was mentioned for the first time to describe the name of this clear alcoholic spirit. It was mentioned in the court documents in the Palatinate of Sandomierz. Aside from this lesser known fact, it’s a stunning city for the intrepid tourist. Sandomierz boasts a large royal castle, a well-preserved town hall and a pretty old town square. Inside Sandomierz’s museums you can see the document, which Polish people believe proves that vodka began in Poland. You can also see the court buildings where the document was created and signed, but it is not open to the public.
Although consuming vodka is one of the most popular pastimes for Polish people, the impressive Vodka Museum still remains an off-the-beaten path gem. Housed in a former Koneser Vodka Distillery, it’s one of the few vodka museums around the world which occupies a space that used to make vodka in large quantities. What’s even more intriguing is that it is in a less well-known part of Warsaw — the trendy up-and-coming Praga neighbourhood. The museum’s elaborate exhibition takes you on a journey through the 600-year history of vodka production in Poland. The museum was the brainchild of the Pernod Ricard Group, who have similar museums in other countries. Also near the museum is Ząbkowska Street, one of the oldest streets in Warsaw, which now houses some very cool cafés and bars.
The cool bar zone Pawilony is situated down a poky alleyway off the famous Nowy Świat (New World) street in central Warsaw. This area has about 15 bars tightly packed into a cosy little enclosure. It’s a great place to drink vodka shots with locals. The bars have their own theme; from Manhattan with its New York skyline, to Komix which has superheroes plastered on the wall, to the cheap Pijalnia Wodki i Piwa which offers shots for 4 zlotych (€1). The area itself has free Wi-Fi, which works in almost every bar – including some of the basements.
Poland’s popular cheap-PRL style pub chain, Pijalnia Wódki i Piwa, occupies a prominent spot in Toruń’s old town square. This is an absolute gem for budget backpackers, nostalgic tourists and bargain hunting locals. Cheap beer and vodka from 4.5 złotych (£1) and bar snacks like toast and sausages from 9 złotych (£2) are part of the budget menu. This is one of the cheapest places to drink vodka in the entire country. The chain’s trademark shot menu such as Chupa Chups (homemade lemon drink with ginger and pepper) and the Kokosanka (coconut flavour) won’t break the bank either. These venues are all over Poland and they also have late opening hours, especially on the weekends.
Vodka lovers will love the thrill of visiting a distillery that was once part owned by Bruce Willis. Poland’s Kociewie region is home to one of the country’s most famous vodka distilleries – the Sobieski Vodka Distillery. This distillery is located in the regional capital Starogard Gdański and is a huge complex. The original Sobieski vodka remains the purest and the most popular, and here you can see how it is made and drink it at the source. Fruity flavoured vodkas are a lot more popular now and Sobieski offers a lemon and a cherry flavour, amongst others. Tours can be arranged in advance.
Czupito is a cheap and cheerful shot bar situated near the old town in Poznań. The venue specialises in cheap vodka shots with a huge range of varieties, colours and flavours. Czupito is renowned for its innovative, crazy shots in a friendly and fun environment. During sporting events, the venue has different shot styles for every competing team. On Friday and Saturday nights, revellers make a beeline to Czupito to drink a selection of shots together and enjoy the nightlife that Poznań has to offer.
Polish weddings are famous for being two to three days affairs, involving what is known as ‘the after party’ (poprawiny). During the three day event, you will notice the copious amounts of vodka that is consumed. Almost every table will have a bucket filled with ice cold vodka bottles, each person will have a shot glass in front of them. There will be many raised ‘toasts’ to the new bride and groom and as a foreigner, you will be expected to down your shots in style, as the Polish do.
There is no shortage of options these days for attending a vodka drinking course. Companies such as Polish Your Cooking and Eat Polska organise tours which involve sampling many different types of vodka whilst also eating some truly authentic Polish food. Head to the Polish seaside city of Gdańsk, and embark on Eat Polska’s Vodka Drinking Tour. Your expert guide will take you on a tour of the city’s bars, ensuring you get a good understanding of the vodka culture. The tour involves 6-7 vodka tastings and 5-6 food pairings, lasts 3.5 hours and is held every evening.