Where The Vodka Belt Is Actually Located

Correction 6/30/22: A previous version of this article stated that Stoli vodka is produced in Russia. The brand is based in Latvia, not Russia.

Vodka is a colorless, flavorless distilled liquor made from a combination of water and an ethanol base most commonly derived from wheat or potatoes, according to MasterClass. Although herbs and spices are occasionally added during the fermentation process to introduce distinct flavors, states MasterClass, vodka's uniquely blank palette makes it an ideal foundation for creating elaborate cocktails.

At 40% alcohol by volume (ABV), vodka is a pretty middle-ground strength spirit. According to a mixture of history and folklore, in 1894, Tsar Nicolas II commissioned Russian scientist Dmitry Mendeleyev (who aided in creating the Periodic Table of Elements) to make a universal formula for vodka, which is where the 40% ABV/80 proof standard first originated, per The Moscow Times. In fact, vodka has remained a longtime staple of Russian culture. The etymological origin of "vodka" even comes from the Russian "вода" (pronounced "vo-da") which literally translates to "water", per VinePair.

Whether you prefer brunching with a spicy Bloody Mary or sipping a tasting vodka, we're delving into the beverage's epicenter: the Vodka Belt.

Northern Europe is in the spirit

The Vodka Belt is a group of countries where the largest amount of vodka in the world is both produced and consumed, according to travel news platform Cultural World. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Russia is the quarterback of the Vodka Belt. The popular White Russian and Moscow Mule vodka-based cocktails both borrow their names from the country. But the belt also includes other countries scattered across Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe, per wine reviewer Decanter.

According to Baltic Run, the Vodka Belt starts in Poland, and extends through Scandinavia (with the exception of Denmark) and the rest of Northeastern Europe. Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, it says, are key players on the Belt. But, the defining boundaries are gray in some areas: depending on who you ask, it also includes Ukraine and Belarus, via Cultural World.

The Vodka Belt is home to many of the most popular household name vodka brands on the market, like the Swedish Absolut and Stoli, which is produced in Latvia. (Or, for stronger palettes, Spirytus Rektyfikowany vodka from Sweden clocking in at a whopping 96% ABV, via The Liquor Barn.) But why is vodka so popular in these countries? It's all about location. In this geographic area, the regional climate is too cold for grapes to grow, explains Baltic Run, which makes being a wine fan an inconvenience at best. So, when life gives you lemons, some folks make something a little stronger than lemonade.