On This Day - 9th August 1765: Russian Empress Catherine II & Vodka… ;)

Sophisticated drink of spies, skittled stimulant of students and nightmare fuel of neighbours, vodka is a seemingly unshakable (or unstirred) part of our society. We infuse it (see here for ideas), we mix it, some more daring souls even distil their own but it is still to Russia that we look when we think of the finest, the purest, the cleanest version of the spirit. Russian vodka, I am assured, is unlike anything we drink over here. It lights a inextinguishable fire in the heart strong enough to see the soul through the darkest depths of a Russian winter. It was also political. In years gone by holding the monopoly over vodka production was seen as one of the prime indicators of a stable regime. In other words, he who holds the bottle holds the power. Perhaps that’s where spin the bottle comes from…


The end to this tyrannical ideal came in the shape of not a he but a she, a very great she. Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia during the Golden Age of the Russian Empire and Russian Enlightenment and most importantly (for the sake of this article) abolisher of the monopoly of vodka production. 

Catherine II by F.Rokotov after Roslin (c.1770, Hermitage)

Russian Empress Catherine II
Fyodor Rokotov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In 1765 she granted the right of producing vodka to the gentry class as a whole which whilst being still amusingly elitist was at least marginally enlightened. In fact, it was so elitest that the bluer your blood, the most vodka you could legally produce. Must be something to do with needing extra intoxication to compensate for the trials and stresses of fabulous wealth. All those people rushing around doing things for you, even the thought of it is enough to make one reach for the shot glass. 


Still, the granting of this right led to pretty exciting developments in the world of vodka production. New technologies were fashioned and methods were honed as nobles Russia wide competed to produce the best vodka. Freezing became a popular tactic and different spices were added to produce subtler, smokier or creamier vodka. The golden age of Russian vodka was born and competition, the friend of all progress, urged and encouraged the spirit onwards to the pure delight that ruins many young lives today. 

© Isla Robertson 2017