Like so much in the spirits world, vodka has a hazy origin story; everyone wants to take credit for its invention. Some will avow that its birthplace was Poland, while others claim it was first distilled in Russia. Most scholars agree, however, that vodka’s history stretches back at least a thousand years, making it one of the world’s most storied spirits.
In Poland, centuries of vodka drinking have translated to a wealth of fascinating customs and food pairings. Historically, the spirit was a medicinal concoction infused with various herbs, but in its modern form — ultra-pure and smooth — vodka can still be the cure for what ails you. That said, not all vodkas are created equal, and different incarnations serve different purposes. Some vodkas are tasteless and disappear into a mixer, ideal for fruity summertime cocktails or fiery Bloody Marys. Other vodkas are made with ingredients chosen for their terroir, yielding complex flavors accentuated by carefully chosen food pairings.
If you’re looking for the latter, Belvedere Single Estate Rye vodkas fit the bill. These all-natural, no-additives, and zero-sugar- added vodkas are made with Dankowskie Diamond rye, a baker’s grade rye that’s low in starch and high in carbohydrates, resulting in a more robust taste than other ryes. Belvedere planted the strain in two different locations in Poland — Lake Bartężek, in the country’s northeast, and Smogóry Forest, near the German border — and ended up with two distinct-tasting vodkas.
Need more intel? Here’s everything you need to know about how to get the most enjoyment out of this beloved spirit, from proper toasting etiquette to the traditional (and not-so-traditional) dishes it best complements.
Serve your vodka cold, but not too cold.
Don’t pour your vodka ice-cold straight from the freezer. Temperatures between 43 and 46.5 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal for bringing out the subtle aromas and flavors in high-end vodkas, such as the two rye-based vodkas from the Belvedere Single Estate Rye series. The collection’s Smogóry Forest edition offers notes of salted caramel, honey, and white pepper, while the Lake Bartężek version has notes of black pepper, toasted nuts, and cream.
Add a dash of vodka to your favorite recipe.
Vodka isn’t just for drinking. A key ingredient in the classic Italian-American dish penne alla vodka, a splash of vodka unlocks hard-to-get, alcohol-soluble flavors in the tomatoes in the dish, resulting in a spicy and acidic sauce that’s then spiked with rich heavy cream. Vodka is also great in marinades — it tenderizes hearty cuts of beef like prime rib — and even helps to improve desserts like sorbet by creating an extra-smooth texture.
Pair vodka with cured fish.
Everyone knows that vodka and caviar are a classic pairing, but have you tried it with cured fish? Briny and complex, cured fish is the perfect foil to chilled vodka, which refreshes the palate between bites. The combinations are endless, whether the fish is smoked, pickled, or salted, herring, mackerel, sturgeon, or salmon. Get creative with the sea’s bounty in the form of pungent rollmops — slivers of pickled herring rolled and stuffed with salty fillings like gherkins and green olives — or paper-thin slices of smoked salmon spritzed with lemon.
Take a shot.
Bottoms up! In Poland, vodka is customarily downed by the shotful in a single gulp, or do dna, which means “to the bottom.” Do as the locals do and toast each swig with a hearty shout of “na zdrowie”, or “to health!” Glasses are often refilled as soon as they’re emptied, so make sure to bolster yourself with snacks in between rounds. “If you’re a guest in someone’s house, your host will expect the bottle to be empty before you leave,” warns the guidebook “Lonely Planet.”
Order up a classic (and polarizing) Warsaw appetizer.
Warsaw residents in decades past were obsessed with lorneta z meduzą, a jiggly appetizer of pig trotters encased in aspic washed down with two shots of vodka. According to the Museum of Polish Vodka, “this was popularly known as ‘binoculars with jellyfish’” — the binoculars refer to the double-shot glasses — “and at the time was a very typical appetizer!” This throwback dish can still be found in traditional bistros known as “milk bars” across Poland.
These days, offal encased in jelly isn’t as popular as it once was, but vodka has pairing potential way beyond it. Look to Belvedere’s light and grassy Lake Bartężek offering when it comes to matching fresh, vegetable-forward dishes, while the Smogóry Forest edition is rich and hearty, a fitting drink for long-stewed, meaty delicacies.
Not a traditionalist? Break the rules.
Don’t sweat it if tipping back shots isn’t for you. Instead, swirl a couple fingers of the good stuff into an elegant Martini, enriched either with dry vermouth and lemon or fruity Lillet Blanc and grapefruit. Not into the strong flavors of cured fish? Pair your drink with a fresh filet of white fish or roasted chicken. No matter if you’re a modernist or a stickler for tradition, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy vodka.
This article is sponsored by Belvedere Vodka.