European Union recognizes Estonian vodka
There is a long tradition of vodka production in Estonia, with the spirit having been distilled in the country for many centuries. Estonian vodka is a high-quality beverage made from local water and grain or potatoes and produced exclusively in Estonia. The main ingredients give the vodka its specific flavour notes. Rye makes it sharp and spicy, wheat gives it softness and fruitiness, and potatoes make the beverage somewhat buttery and sweet. Due to its distinct characteristics and unique flavour, Estonian vodka is the first Estonian product to receive the protected geographical indication (PGI) status from the European Union. This status is granted to products produced according to the historical character of a specific geographical area. The system is created to protect the unique and historical gastronomy heritage of Europe, and Estonian vodka has been recognised as a product worthy of this status.
The first written record of vodka production in Estonia dates back to 1485, when the Tallinn Great Guild issued a law regulating the conditions of selling vodka in the city. The drink was probably produced already much earlier in Estonia, so that by 1485 its production was significant enough to be regulated. Back then, vodka was most often consumed as a medicine.
In the 19th century, potatoes began to be used in the production of vodka in addition to rye and wheat, and by the 20th century, potatoes had become the main raw material for spirit production. In 1938 Estonia was awarded the Guinness World Record for being the distiller of the strongest spirit, that is, a spirit made from potatoes and with an alcohol content of 98 percent.
Natural local ingredients give Estonian vodka its clean and authentic flavour. Moreover, Estonia has one of the highest shares of organic farming in the European Union. In 2015, organic arable land accounted for nearly 17 percent of all arable land in the country, and this share is growing with each passing year. Estonian farmers also use significantly less fertiliser compared to the European Union average.
The distinctive feature of rye and wheat grown in Estonia is its cultivation as a winter grain. One hundred percent of the rye and half of the wheat grown in Estonia is sown as a winter crop. The spirit used for making Estonian vodka is made from coarse-milled rye and wheat. Coarse-milled grain must not be dehusked, polished, or otherwise processed. Larger particles from the milling help to better bring out the flavour notes of the grains, which later appear in the final flavour and aroma of the vodka.
Local water is used in all the stages of production. Because water used for blending the spirit cannot be purified by distillation, its quality matters. Pure Estonian water plays an important role in the quality and taste of the final product.