Vodka War

Poland and Hungary are quarrelling over the definition of vodka. For the Poles vodka is an alcoholic beverage derived from cereals or potatoes. Historically vodka is a colourless liquor made from grain. Traditionally it was made in Russia, the Ukraine, Poland and Scandinavia. However, the fact that potato vodka is also considered to be vodka, though potatoes were only introduced in these regions in the 18th century, indicates, according to some, that vodka can also be distilled from other products than grain or potatoes.

Hence, within the European Union, a fierce fight has broken out between the vodka purists and the vodka liberalizers. The EU tends to strictly regulate what the products its subjects eat and drink (from bananas, to cucumbers, to chocolate and beer) are to be called. However, Brussels does not yet have a strict definition for vodka. Indeed, until the Central and East European countries joined the Union in 2004 the EU did not need to deal with vodka much.

On 20 February Poland demanded that the EU prohibit anyone from calling an alcoholic colourless liquor without distinctive character, aroma or taste vodka unless it is made on the basis of cereals or potatoes. Poland was backed by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. The Hungarians, however, who make their vodka from grape marc or molasses, are outraged by the Polish pretentions. They are supported by Britain. The other EU members still have to make up their minds.

According to Andrs Nagy of the Hungarian guild of spirits manufacturers, modern active filtration techniques mean there is little or no difference in quality, taste or production cost, whatever the vodka is made from. We believe it is best for the market to decide on what is and isnt good vodka.

The Poles, however, do not want to have vodka watered down by the Hungarians. They claim that the Hungarian grape marc or molasses spirits do not taste at all like cereal or potato vodka. Hence Brussels should prohibit the Hungarians from calling their vodkas vodka.

The matter is being taken very seriously by Polish vodka manufacturers. They are having a rough time on their domestic markets since young Poles are turning their backs on spirits in favour of beer and wine. As a consequence foreign markets are becoming more important to Polish vodka producers, which is why they want Brussels to get the Hungarians out of Europes vodka market.


not shown