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Vodka is primarily distilled from fermented grain such as rye, wheat, or corn, although there are some vodkas that are produced from sugar beets, molasses, or potatoes.
This spirit was originally produced in Poland and Russia after Genoese merchants introduced the royal courts of both countries to arrack made from sugar cane juice sometime between the late 1380s and the 1420s.
According to the Polish Spirits Industry association (Polski Przemys Spirytusowy), the word "vodka" first appeared in court documents dated 1405 from the Palatinate of Sandomierz registry. Originally called zhinznennia voda [water of life], the term was simplified to the diminuative term "vodka" [dear little water]. In his 1534 book of medicinal recipes, Polish chemist Falmirz listed over 70 vodka infusions employed to cure everything from lumbago to infertility.
Since the 1780s, a common practice in the vodka distillation process is the use of charcoal filtration, developed by Johann Tobias Lowitz. Filtration radically reduces the level of congeners, producing a smoother, cleaner liquor. To attain the desired level of "purity" many vodkas are distilled more than once in column stills. Some brands claim to distill their spirit up to six times.
By regulation, most vodkas have an alcohol content of 37.5 to 40 percent ABV.
Northern and Eastern Europe are the major producers of vodka with Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, and Sweden being the leaders in the "Vodka Belt". But vodkas are also produced in other European countries including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, North America, Central and South America, Asia, and Australia.
Traditionally, vodka is consumed neat in the "Vodka Belt". Vodkas infused with herbs, berries, fruits, or vegetables have also had a long tradition throughout Eastern Europe.
Beginning the 1920s, five vodka drinks are the main ways vodka is consumed in the rest of the world. The Bloody Mary invented by Fernand "Pete" Petiot at Harry's New York Bar in Paris and redeveloped at the King Cole Bar in New York is a brunch time staple.
The Mimosa invented at the Chatham Bar in Paris and the Buck's Fizz invented at the Buck's Club in London take equal billing on the brunch time menu.
James Bond's creator Ian Fleming helped make the Vodka Martini a sophisticated mainstay in the 1950s. And the invention of concentrated, frozen range juice in the late 1940s, vaulted the Screwdriver to prominence in the late Twentieth Century.