What comes to mind when you think of the Russian national drink? Vodka, naturally. But what type of vodka was drunk during the times of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Pushkin, Dostoevsky or Chekhov? Which Russian vodka was so highly thought of by European kings, queens, and nobility? It was a very different vodka from the one we know today. In those times, column distillation (or rectification) had not yet been invented, and ethanol could not be used as it is today.
The technology of the rectification process was invented in Western Europe for the chemical industry and only reached Russia in 1870. In all the world, any vodka produced between 1895 and 2012 is based on flavorless, odorless rectified ethanol (spirit). Before 1895, vodka was made from grain produced in copper pot stills, just like single malt whisky, and was called “breadwine” or Polugar. In 1895, when the Tsar introduced a state monopoly, the production of Polugar was completely forbidden and thus only rectified ethanol was used in the production of vodka. All the traditional distilleries with their copper pot stills were destroyed. They began to produce alcohol using modern technologies and the column distillation process, and the recipes that the nobility used to prepare grain spirits were forgotten. Current Russian legislation still forbids the traditional style of grain distillation in Russia. This is why we produce Polugar in the European Union in Poland, where an old distillery has been restored. The Rodionov and Sons private distillery is tucked away next to an old palace in a forest, far from other manufacturing sites, roads, and large cities.