When we hear about beer, the first thing that comes to mind is the Czech Republic and Germany. France, in turn, is the home of the best wines and champagne. Each country has its own traditions and drinking culture, deeply rooted in their identity and history. So how does it look like in Poland? After all, Poland is a homeland of a variety of unique and drinks and alcohol. To help every new polish resident with that vital aspect of social life, we prepared a little handbook about tradition and history of drinking alcohol in Poland. Let’s take a look!
The history of alcohol in Poland
Factors influencing the change in the perception of alcohol include financial situation, state of the state economy, state policy, social background of consumers, place of consumption, way of drinking and gender. Alcohol, due to its properties, affects practically every aspect of our lives: physiological, psychological and economic. The act of drinking alcohol itself has different functions in every social layer and is an essential economic and political factor where it can be used as a tool.
Interestingly, alcohol was used as a medicine until the 20th century. The Latin in vino Salus, or health in wine, is a confirmation of the use of alcohol in medicine. Both wine and beer, the oldest percentage of drinks, contain vitamins, sugars, iron, minerals, regulate digestion, and so on. The place where alcohol is consumed was important.
According to the oldest chronicles, the first inns operated in Poland since the 11th century. They served beer, honey and simple food. From the end of the Middle Ages, propination coercion became obligatory. A peasant could buy a certain amount of alcohol only in an inn belonging to his master. This proves the high awareness and perception of alcohol as an economic tool. The beginning of alcohol abuse in Poland came in the 16th century, with the appearance of vodka.
Since the end of the 18th century, with the formation of cafes and pastry shops, there has been an evolution in gastronomy. Cafes were public places where both rich and poor people had access. Initially, cafes served cakes, tea and other delicacies. With time, they started to introduce pop drinks into their menus. The most numerous in the cities were hams and tractor mills. The former served mainly vodka, beer and snacks, while the latter was referred to as treaties as subordinate restaurants. During the Romantic period, fashionable fashions made it possible for people to come to the restaurants and find out where they are and where they are, to participate in social and social life.
Beer has always been brewed on Polish soil. Beer is mentioned by numerous chroniclers, both Polish and foreign, which testifies to its exceptional popularity in ancient times. The minimal number of people who knew how to write at that time meant that only the most important, essential information was written down. Yet, beer and the breweries producing it were on the pages of history.
Later on, beer is already a regular feature on the pages of our history, because it was one of the major branches of the industry at that time and generated colossal income. The documents contain information on the functioning inns, granting the right to brew beer to towns and monasteries, or on the emerging and developing features of brewers.
Poland is the third-largest beer producer in Europe (after Germany and Great Britain) (40 million hl). On average, every year every Pole drinks 98 litres of beer. This is a driving force for the Polish economy, as the vast majority of hops and brewing varieties of cereals come from domestic crops. Hops and barley are produced in several regions of Poland. The Lublin region dominates, especially when it comes to the production of hops, which supplies almost 90% of this raw material. Other areas are mainly Wielkopolska, Kujawy, Pomerania and Lower Silesia.
The beer revolution is taking place before our very eyes. Not only classical bitter hops are produced and delivered to breweries, but also hops, which give the beer a specific aroma. In this way, it is possible to create styles that have not been known to consumers until now. The most considerable demands on beer styles are placed on people between the ages of 26-29. They are the ones who most often experiment with breeds outside the standard canon.
The first memories of vodka appeared quite late in any Polish documents. It was only in 1405 that the word vodka was used for the first time in court documents. Then in 1534, Stefan Falimierz in his herbarium About herbs and about their power mentioned 72 species of herbal vodkas, which in his book are recommended for various ailments. These drinks could be treated as medicinal drinks because they were made in a different way than today and resembled more the production of moonshine, whisky or grappa. They were always tasty and most often used for making “nalewkas”.
At the end of the Middle Ages, the custom of drinking vodka as a jumping beverage emerged in Eastern Europe. In the 18th century, vodka grew in importance in Poland at that time, although beer was the most popular beverage. The growing demand not only in the Republic of Poland but also in other European countries made it necessary to increase production capacity. Small distilleries were not able to saturate the market, a production need arose. In 1782, the Baczewski family opened the first industrial distillery in the world in Lviv. In other words, since 1782, it has been possible to produce much more.
It is interesting that many excellent flavoured vodkas, such as lemons, nuts and oranges, were produced. The choice of vodka for dishes is no different from the selection of wine, beer, cognac, whisky, mineral water or any other beverage. In turn, when choosing alcohol for snacks, it is worth to follow several rules. The contrast between sweetness and salt is a fantastic experience. Hence the vast career of herring and pickled cucumber in the culture of drinking vodka.
For almost the entire period of socialism in Poland, vodka – despite its low quality – was the most popular alcohol. Its production was monopolized by the state, and it was used by everyone and practically everywhere. For a short period of martial law, Poles returned to the tradition of tiny factories, which were established wherever they could: on balconies, in forests, barns, etc. The production of alcohol was monopolized by the state and used by everyone and practically everywhere. Interestingly enough, in the 1960s and 1970s, Poland was the centre of vodka supplies for the entire Warsaw Pact. It was our exchange currency on international markets.
Champagne is a unique sparkling wine. Lively and dynamic, on the one hand, and elegant and balanced on the other. Its popularity has made it the national treasure of France. Over the centuries, it has also become one of the most essential alcohols of all time. The oldest champagne houses were established over 300 years ago, at the time when the Polish court ruled the Saxon dynasty. Soon the last Polish king Stanislaw August Poniatowski was to sit on the throne. It was during his time that in the books of many Polish magnates we find orders confirming that champagne was present in Poland from the very beginning of its existence.
Does champagne in Poland require rediscovery? Definitely not. Although the Polish champagne market is still quite small, it is overgrowing. Invariably, for years, the end of the year has been a time of harvest on the sparkling wine market. French champagnes and champagnes of Polish origin benefit from it.
Tinctures and homemade products
In the 19th century, alcohol production played an essential role in the economic history of Poland many times. When, after the outbreak of WWI, there was the widespread rushing of the samogon. Still one year after the war, the number of illegal distilleries reached 20,000. The illegal rush fell to flourish after the outbreak of the Great Depression.
During the socialist period, when the state’s spirits monopoly was restored, alcohol sales already accounted for 15% of state budget revenues. In the following years, this percentage decreased but never disappeared. The crisis of the early 1980s, alcohol rationing and martial law resulted in a “moonshine rally”. In 1981 alone, the Police recorded 1435 cases of illegal distillation, and a year later, there were 10 times more of them. Home alcohol production is also connected with the beginnings of the free market in Poland in the 1990s. A massive amount of spirit was brought to Poland free of duty and taxes. Only the beginning of the 21st century introduced a significant distinction on the Polish alcohol market. On the other hand, Poles themselves began to look for new species and flavours, significantly enriching the drinking culture.
There is a view that in Poland, the culture of wine drinking will never reach the level of Mediterranean countries. In their opinion, we are in the region of “booze and beer”. Contrary to stereotypes, the wine drinking culture in Poland is much more vibrant and developed, although very problematic. From the historical point of view, in former Poland wine was difficult to reach and expensive, and only the elites drank it. This was the case until the 17th century. This changed only at the end of the 18th century. Under the influence of the fashion for French dishes, but only in the kitchen of wealthy people. Centuries ago, when preparing tables for a Polish meal, alcoholic beverages were put on them, but not much was drunk during meals. Only then were many toasts supplemented with alcohol made available.
The 1970s, and especially the era of socialism, also helped little, because the development of wine culture in Poland was effectively blocked. In those years, right, noble spirits were practically unavailable on the Polish market. The only wines that could sometimes be seen in shops were not of the best quality and came mostly from “brotherly countries”: Bulgaria, Romania or Hungary. Only the last two decades prove that wine is gaining popularity in Poland, and the dynamics of its consumption is overgrowing.
Poles drink wine mainly at home with friends and family. Poles reach for table wines. Definitely, less frequently, they buy dessert wines and vermouths as well as sparkling wines and champagnes. In the area of table wines, year on year, preferences are systematically shifting from sweet to semi-dry and dry wines. As far as colour is concerned, it is tasted in red varieties. However, the popularity of rosé wines is growing the fastest. We can even talk about a specific fashion for enjoying new wines, learning about other customs and tasting specialities from countries with a high culture of wine.
Cider has been known and loved for a long time in Western Europe. Low alcohol content and fruity, light taste make it very popular and widely available even today. In Poland cider also has its traditions – it was previously known as an apple cider and was drunk as early as the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, it was a product that did not gain the sympathy of the upper classes, because it was considered a drink of the poor.
This beverage gained the greatest fame in our country when Russia imposed an embargo on Polish apples in 2014. Our domestic fruit growers suddenly stayed with tons of unsold fruit, the primary recipient of which was Russia. Since Poland is the largest apple producer in Europe and the third-largest in the world, the action “Stand up to Putin – eat apples and drink cider” started. However, cider in Poland is still treated as a novelty, a curiosity, sometimes even confused with wine or beer. And yet our candlesticks have great drinks, which win awards at international competitions, and several brands on the market certainly deserve attention.