Too Much for One, Not Enough for Two

“Too much for one and not enough for two,” can be said about magnums of wine in France, and about half-liters of Vodka in Poland. Drinking in Poland is more than the national pastime; it’s part of the way of life here, and a rebellion from life itself. So don’t ever buy a half-liter of vodka in Poland. It is best to buy at least two liters.

Unbelievably, you can thank eighth-century Moroccans for alcohol; it was first distilled there. In the eleventh-century a vodka-like spirit was being created from wine in Italy, to the Italians it was known as aqua vitae or “water of life.”

At first alchemists kept the secret of distillation, and pharmacists came into existence to supply the masses with this elixir of health. It truly was a health aid in those days, killing bacteria in one’s drinking water was a necessity until modern times.

In fact the physicians and pharmacists of the day all agreed that getting drunk once or twice a month fortified the stomach and alcohol was often prescribed as a curative. As late as the nineteenth century two Polish physicians (a father and son) stated that: “to be healthy in Poland, pharmacies and doctors should not be used, but rather twice a year one should get properly drunk. Once in May instead with a mineral water cure, and the second time in October to avoid catarrh, pneumonia and phlogistic (inflammatory) diseases.”

Distilled spirits reached Poland from Italy or Germany in the 1600’s, and some of the distilleries operating in Poland today are direct descendants of these ancient businesses. Popular spirits consumed in Poland these days include Absinthe, Beer, Wine, and Vodka, with the Polish drinking substantially more wine than the average American. And as drinking is allowed at age 16 in Poland, it seems to be an integral part of the society, and may or may not be somewhat of a problem.

Paradoxically it seems the Polish have a reputation for being drunks, but only get drunk on special occasions. But any excuse seems to be enough to crack open that bottle of Vodka. What the Polish drink varies by economic class greatly. The comparatively rich city-dwellers import wines, liqueurs, and spirits of quality from abroad; and the working classes drink beer, cheap vodka and black-market spirits of dubious quality.

Drinking in Poland increased dramatically during the Communist era, when life was so grim, getting drunk was the only thing to look forward to. These days the Polish may drink less, but with a long tradition of being regarded as a healthful substance, it is still socially accepted. In fact there seems to be some scorn expressed by the average Pole for someone who doesn’t drink occasionally.

So when in Poland get out there and hoist a few, if you want to be accepted. It’s traditional!

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