How to drink vodka like a Pole

Planning a trip to Kraków and want to fit in by drinking like a true Pole? In this excerpt from Lonely Planet Magazine, you can just follow the steps below - all the way to the bottom of your glass.

Wine drinkers may have outstripped vodka drinkers in Poland for the first time, but the country still falls firmly within the vodka belt, which stretches across Eastern Europe, the Nordic and Baltic states.

Vodka has long been a part of Polish tradition, with some blends dating back centuries - Zubrówka has been produced for more than 600 years.  So, ready to drink like a local? Here goes:

  • In Poland, drinking is a public affair; always ensure you have a group of friends with you to share your vodka.
  • Poles don't drink vodka in cocktail form or diluted with a mixer. In fact, to traditionalists, these practices are considered practically criminal. Vodka is drunk neat, chilled (but without ice) and usually in measurements of 50ml.
  • The most common toast is na zdrowie (pronounced 'naz-dro-v-yeh'), meaning 'to health'.
  • Vodka is always drunk in one gulp or 'do dna' ('to the bottom'), regardless of size.
  • Drinks are immediately refilled, so take some time between each toast to sip some water or have a Polish snack, such as pickles or sausage.
  • Be warned: if you're a guest in someone's house, your host will expect the bottle to be empty before you leave.
  • Drink responsibly! Unless you're Russian, never try to out-drink a Pole. Miss a few turns or sip your drink in stages.

Polish vodka comes in a number of colours and flavours. So how do you know what's what? Here's a handy intro from Lonely Planet's Poland guidebook:

Czysta (clear) vodka is not, as is often thought in the West, the only species of the wódka family. Though clear vodka does form the basic 'fuel' for seasoned drinkers – wyborowa is the finest of the wheat-based clear vodkas and żytnia the rye-based ones – there is a whole spectrum of varieties, from very sweet to extra dry.

These include myśliwska ('hunter’s vodka' tasting not unlike gin), wiśniówka (flavoured with cherries), jarzębiak (rowan berries), cytrynówka (lemon), pieprzówka (pepper) and the famous żubrówka (‘bison vodka’, which is flavoured with grass from the Białowieża Forest on which the bison feed).