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A Brief History of Vodka

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

The discerning Fossil Coast customer instinctively knows that a high-quality handcrafted premium vodka sits with the very best of artisan spirits such as gin, rum, and whiskey.

To mark the upcoming 2023 launch of Fossil Coasts Vodka this blog shall explore the heritage of vodka and provide some insight into the flavour profile.

Vodka is traditionally a clear distilled spirit based on a primary ingredient of starch or sugar derived from grain including corn, rye, wheat, barley, oats, sugar beet, or potatoes. Both Russia and Poland claim to be the originators of vodka. The first identifiable Polish vodkas appeared in the 11th century and were used as medicines called ‘gorzalka’—as were most spirits. The first documented distillery was recorded in the Russian town of Khylnovsk in 1174 and according to history a monk called Isidore from Chudov Monastery in Kremlin made the first recipe for Russian vodka.

Vodka is technically a neutral grain rectified spirit because of the standard way in which the grain is fermented and distilled at least three or more times to remove the head and tail impurities and allow the heart of the distillate to become smoother rather than being characterised as having heat or giving the sensation of burning the mouth and throat when consumed.

According to European regulations, the minimum alcoholic strength for vodka is 37.5% ABV (alcohol by volume). After distillation vodka does not require aging and is ready to drink once cut with spring water or some other ultra-clean water source lowering the still strength to bottling proof.

When distilling 'cuts' are made to ensure a desirable tasting spirit is ultimately produced. Cuts refer to the multiple processes and stages known as the foreshots, heads, hearts, and tails of switching out the container collecting the distillate. Vodka requires the removal of the heads and tails meaning that vodka is typically described as tasteless or odourless but in reality, each vodka has subtle smells and tastes.

The “heads” are where alcohol can be collected and used in blending. They contain alcohol-soluble compounds and esters or organic compounds with characteristic pleasant odours. They are among the compounds that give fruits and flowers their flavours and smells. The final stage of distillation and before filtration is the production of “tails”. The "tails" portion contains heavier alcohols, a much higher percentage of water, and other unwanted by-products which are more water-soluble. Finally, vodka is filtered and purified using charcoal.

The removal of the heads and tails means that vodka is typically described as tasteless or odourless but in reality, each vodka has subtle smells and tastes. In recent years the emergence and growth of many handcrafted expressions of flavoured vodkas many quality artisan distillers have preferred to use the traditional infusion method of steeping ingredients like fresh fruits and herbs in a finished vodka rather than simply adding a natural or artificial distillate extract.

The word “vodka” was not mentioned in English literature until the 18th century but this drink dates back to the medieval times originating within the Vodka Belt of the Eastern Europe agricultural grain regions of Russia, Finland, Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine, Sweden, and Poland.

It is believed that Vodka is derived from the Slavic word for water “voda” – the actual origins of vodka are however fiercely disputed and both Russia and Poland claim that it is their respective national drink.

The founder of the Russian Vodka Museum in St. Petersburg told the Washington Post, "The whole history of Russian culture is tied to vodka."

Vodka is traditionally consumed unmixed and chilled, in small glasses swallowed in one gulp with the friendly expression “Na Zdorovie!” Or, the term in English, “Cheers!”. No sipping allowed. In Poland, Polish Vodka is drunk from a "mikadka" a small glass, one holding about 50 ml of vodka.

Vodka is one of the most popular and versatile. spirits to use in cocktails such as a Cosmopolitan, Moscow Mule, Screwdriver, Bloody Mary, Vodka Martini, and Espresso Martini. Despite the differences between gin and vodka, the two spirits are often used interchangeably in cocktails.

Our vodka is named after the purity and hardness of Portland Stone synonymous with the Isle of Portland on the Jurassic Coast. Portland Stone is visible overlooking Portland Harbour, Chesil Beach to the North and dramatically descending into the sea at Portland Bill in the south.

Composed of dissolved shells it was formed in the shallow warm sub-tropical seas of the Tithonian Stage 150 million years ago. The name of the geological stage Tithonian is derived from Greek mythology. Tithonus was the son of Laomedon of Troy. He fell in love with Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, and finds his place in the geological stratigraphy because this stage, the Tithonian, finds itself hand in hand with the dawn of the Cretaceous.

It is the uppermost rock layer of the Jurassic and the start of the Cretaceous periods. Throughout history, Portland Stone has been quarried and has become the recognisable building block for many of London’s historic landmarks including the Tower of London, the Bank of England, London Bridge, the British Museum, Somerset House, Buckingham Palace, and the Houses of Parliament.



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