Polugar Essential Facts
What comes to mind when you think about the Russian national drink?
Vodka, of course. But do you know what type of vodka they drank during the time of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Pushkin, Dostoevsky or Chekhov? Which Russian vodka was so highly thought of by the European kings and queens and nobility?
It was actually something very different from the vodka you are familiar with today. Before rectification technology was invented for the chemical industry in Western Europe, ethanol could not be used as it is nowadays. The vodka was made from grain and distilled in copper pot stills, rather like single malt whisky, and was called Breadwine or Polugar.
When rectification (distillation columns) reached Russia in 1870, alcohol started being produced using the more efficient modern technology and the old recipes of grain distillates used by the nobility were slowly phased out. It was then in 1895, when the Tsar introduced a state monopoly, that the production of Polugar was completely forbidden and all the traditional distilleries with their copper pot stills were destroyed.
This lost symbol of traditional Russian gastronomy has now started to make a comeback thanks to a recipe found in a book from the 18th century by Boris Rodionov, a well-known Russian vodka historian, academic and published author. The Rodionov family are now spearheading a movement to restore the former glory of traditional grain distillates, Polugar, so enjoyed during the golden age of Russian history.
The word Polugar actually means half-burned in Russian. This is because before alcohol meters were invented, the strength and therefore the perceived quality of an alcoholic drink would be tested by boiling two portions of the liquid until just one portion is left. In other words, when the drink was half burned off, it was called “Polugar.” When alcohol meters were finally invented and they measured the strength of Polugar, it was 38,5%.
Current Russian legislation still forbids the traditional style of grain distillation in Russia. Only ultra-pure 96% ethyl alcohol for vodka can be made from grain. This is why we produce Polugar in the European Union in Poland, where an old distillery has been restored. The Rodionov and Sons private distillery is tucked away next to an old palace in a forest, far from other manufacturing sites, roads, and large cities.
Only carefully selected grains and natural water are used, and the production process respects the authentic traditional technologies. Instead of a long aging process in oak barrels as for single malt whisky, the rich noblemen and landowners of Russia used to use a technique involving natural egg white, which carefully preserved the taste of the raw materials : a delicious aromatic rye flavor.
In terms of its taste, Polugar is unlike any alcoholic drink available today. Everyone who has tried it raves about its natural bread taste and aroma and is unable to compare it with any other known alcoholic drink. Polugar is not like modern vodka. It is something different, a more ancient type of alcohol, which has stayed true to its ancestors.
Polugar is the real legendary Russian breadwine, restored using all of traditional technologies and recipes from the 18th and 19th centuries. It is “father” of Russian vodka.