The Vodka War (and the Beer War, Too)

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 András 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 isn’t 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 Europe’s vodka market.

In the past the EU has fought long battles over the definition of beer. Germany’s “beer purity law” or “Reinheitsgebot” (originally enacted in April 1516) permitted only four ingredients in the beverage: water, hops, barley, and yeast. The Reinheitsgebot, which was Germany’s oldest surviving law, was officially lifted in 1987 after a European court ruling forced the Germans to allow foreign “non-pure” beers onto their markets. The law, however, was still apllied to beers made within Germany, until last year when a German court ruled that a German brewer who added sugar syrup to his brew was allowed to call it “beer.”

However, though the EU forced Germany to break with its centuries old traditions this does not mean that the Americans can get away with it. Last year the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg ruled that the American brewer Anheuser-Busch is not allowed to use its Budweiser brand name in Portugal (or anywhere else in the EU).

According to the European Court only the Czech (government-owned) brewer Budejovicky Budvar is allowed to call its brand “Budweiser.” Anheuser-Busch, the world’s third largest brewer, started brewing Budweiser in 1876, 19 years before Budejovicky Budvar was founded in 1895. However, Budejovicky Budvar is located in the Czech town of Ceske Budejovice, which until the Second World War was inhabited by German-speakers who called the town by its original name Budweis. According to the court the Americans were not the first to brew Budweiser because beer had been brewed in Budweis since 1265.

I don't think there needs to

I don't think there needs to be regulations on vodka and what to call it based on how its made, in the end vodka drinkers have an expectancy of the taste to come, and how the taste got that way some of us don't really care. I know which beers I do and don't like same with vodka. I can understand people wanting a base line regulation but how about white chocolate, when technically there is no chocolate in it. As Dog of flanders mentioned there must be a minimum percent of cocoa to label something chocolate yet there are still labels for white chocolate items when it has none in it. Whatever the method used to make vodka in the end it's a recognizable taste to most. Just as with all other drinks made around the world they will vary a bit. I had iced tea in Greece which was imported from Italy that tasted much different then the same brand here in the US. Narconon

Vodka & beer

The difference is in the taste and the preference of it by the consumer.
Whisky is a Scottish, Irish and American product. They all taste differently and they all have very good brands. There is no way I could say that a good malt is better than a good Irish or a good Kentucky, they all are different and very good. I think that the fact of regulating the name is BS. The consumer must decide for himself.

For once, I think that most

For once, I think that most of these regulations are reasonable extensions of the common market.

Different people in different countries may may have used the same word for totally different products. With the advent of the common market, this was a problem that needed fixing.

Lots of people don't have time to read up on ingredients or manufacturing processes, so an EU regulation on, say, the minimum percent of cocoa needed to label something "chocolate" can be a benefit for them.

Wait a minute DoF, In the

Wait a minute DoF, In the first case the UE forced Germany to allow import of beer made with non-tradition ingredients and adjuncts. In the second case the UE may force Hungarian spirit makers to use traditional ingredients when making vodka. So while one segment of the brewing industry was told that its ok to make beer from rice, corn, corn dextrose ect. another segment- may be told that it cannot use molasses or grape marc in its own recipe for vodka.

The Poles claim that Hungarian grape marc or molasses spirits do not taste at all like cereal or potato vodka . Czech pilsner doesn't taste like German pilsner, but both are still considered beer.

Who gets to claim which beer or vodka brand tastes better, people who buy the product... or pointy headed autocrats at the EU?