The Vodka Belt is a group of countries in Northern Europe and Asia where a great deal of vodka is produced and consumed. While Russia is largely regarded as the home of this strong spirit, the Vodka Belt also includes Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, the Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and most of the Scandinavian countries. These nations have a long tradition of vodka manufacture, and they produce a large share of the vodka consumed around the world. In the European Union, for example, 70% of the vodka consumed comes from EU Vodka Belt countries.
There are a number of other “beverage belts” around the world, such as the Beer Belt and the Wine Belt. Beverage belts are predicated by latitude, culture, and tradition. Most of the Vodka Belt countries have very cold climates, which restrict the number of crops which can be produced, and lead to a demand for strong liquor in the winter months, when the weather can seem to be chilling to the bone. Some of these nations also have a national cuisine which involves vodka. In Russia, for example, many appetizers are designed to be paired with glasses of vodka.
In 2006, a Vodka War erupted in the European Union, when the Vodka Belt countries asked the EU to clearly define vodka. The European Union has definitions for many other traditional foods and beverages, as part of a program to retain traditional food production methods. The Vodka Belt countries wanted to restrict labeling for vodka so that only drinks produced with grains and potatoes, the traditional base ingredients for this beverage, could be labeled as “vodka.” Ultimately, the EU settled on a compromise, allowing producers to make vodka with things like grapes as long as they indicated that their product was made with a non-traditional ingredient.
Oddly enough, vodka is not the most popular drink in many Vodka Belt countries. Beer has supplanted vodka in Poland, Russia, and some other nations, and beer consumption is on the rise in others. The increase in beer consumption may be due to a range of factors. In Poland, beer consumption was actually specifically promoted, out of a desire to reduce alcoholism by getting Polish people to reach for beer instead of vodka.
Although vodka may not be as popular as it once was in the Vodka Belt, it is still readily available. Many visitors to this region like to take time to taste some of the local vodkas, paired with traditional foods for a more complete cultural experience. The Vodka Belt also exports widely, making it easy for people to obtain regional vodkas in other regions of the world.