Polish Vodka, Part 1: Procedures and Protocols


Polish "Fire Water".

(Note to my Mom: maybe you want to skip this post.)

Okay, I’ve heard enough. “Steve, you have a problem.” Now it’s time to justify my research into the “fire water” of Poland. After a month of intense research (which may also be considered cultural embracement) I present to you Part 1 of my review of Polish drinking culture and vodka. In Part 2 I will review the different types of vodka I’ve tried to date and the experiences I’ve had with them.

Apparently vodka can be made from just about anything. You can make it from shoelaces I’m told, although I’m not sure what shoelace vodka would taste like. I can attest to the fact that potato vodka does not taste like potatoes, rye vodka does not taste like rye, and rice vodka (think Japanese sake) does not taste like rice. Thus I imagine shoelace vodka would not taste like shoelaces but similar to other vodkas… the end result being red eyes and a fish-eye view of the world the next day.

Now, as for drinking procedures. Foreigners: understand that vodka is consumed a little differently in Poland as the natives have found something other than beer as chaser: juice, cola, or other such non-alcoholic beverages. But the big difference lies in how much vodka is consumed. In Canada, we may do one shot and that’s it. Chasing with beer isn’t a problem. Sure we have vodka mixtures, such as “screwdrivers” (vodka and orange juice), but again, it’s usually only one or two drinks.

In Poland, however, you’d better be careful when you bring out that vodka bottle… the night becomes a fucking party. Chasing vodka with beer is unheard of because these folks usually have fruit juice with their vodka… and don’t stop until the bottle is finished. It’s as if leaving a bottle half-finished is like some sort of sin. After some research, I’ve found some pairings Żubrówka is often paired with apple juice or clear Krupnik vodka can be paired with cranberry juice. (Full disclosure: I’m staying in hostels which are known to host all sorts of folks on vacation, students and other vagabonds… company not conducive to having only “one shot” or a peaceful, full-night’s sleep.)

And the drinking by myself. You see, when I drink by myself, it’s not because I have a problem. Unconsciously my body is saying, “Don’t go downstairs and offer the bottle to anyone or else you’ll get wasted.” I have a suspicion that those folks don’t actually think I have a problem. I think they’re jealous. Jealous because I’m not offering them any. They should be grateful, I’m saving us from ourselves. (Some have also felt the need to tell me that the first sign of a problem is denial, the second is making excuses.)

As for the overall quality of vodka, from my primitive research, I understand that the more smooth a vodka goes down, the less rowdy the night will be. Why? My observations suggest that the more a vodka burns on the way down, the more chances are that you will consume other liquids after the shot, or, in most cases, not have as many shots. However, if the vodka doesn’t burn as much, then having no chaser means having vodka only. Since the bottle goes down so smooth, you get sleepy faster and gooooood niiiiiiight everybody!

However, with the burn and chasers, some people who aren’t having as many shots will suggest to go some place else. The vodka drinkers will, of course, agree and, well, there goes the night and the promise “I’ll be up by 9 am to go to the museum with you.” The next day some will mutter words such as “I’ll never do that again.” Bullshit. I give you 12 hours from the time you wake up.

I’ve also found that vodka-drinking music needs to have a good, upbeat rhythm. The music shouldn’t be too offensive and, if possible, something that is generally known. My suggested music for those communal vodka drinking sessions include my former band Zrada (which many said sounded like Irish music), Gogol Bordello, Guns N’ Roses, Prodigy, Great Big Sea or other Irish/Celtic music (go figure). If the crowd permits, funk can also be good, but don’t do reggae, it’s too spacey and contemplative.

I have no suggestions for movies. Vodka, when consumed in a crowd, is not conducive to watching movies, such as some European auteur’s attempt to convey meaning through the colour blue or a dream about a director’s eighth and a half movie. Certainly you don’t want to watch something like Gladiator or 300 while drinking. And forget love movies and other chick flicks, after a bottle of vodka you ain’t gettin’ any anyway because, in most cases, well, things don’t work.

As for places to drink. Poland has 24-hour alcohol stores which means you can take it back to the hostel with you! If you’re careful, you can also get away with drinking on trains, but it is illegal . I remember leaving Warsaw when I was asked “Do you have anything to drink?” to which I replied ‘”No, it’s not allowed.” She laughed. Sure enough, three minutes into the trip, the guys right beside me, pulled out a litre of vodka and a few bottles of Coke. I continue to learn.

As a final note, please don’t be an idiot and drink yourself into an accident or trouble with the cops. If you’re a foreigner, you’ll just make it worse for the rest of us. Don’t be a fucknut, drink responsibly.

In Part 2 I’ll try to give you an idea some idea of the vodkas you can try when you come to Poland.


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2 Responses to “Polish Vodka, Part 1: Procedures and Protocols”

  1. siegfried Says:

    good research 🙂 i dont agree with tips about music – whatever you like, mate 🙂

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