- See past messages 20510, 20518, 20544,20578, 20624 on the subject.
"A History of Vodka" by William Pokhlebkin was published in i991 in Russian and in 1992 in English. It has been criticised by serious historians for its bias, but nevertheless it is still used as a reference source without much scrutiny of its claims. An example is "Classic Vodka" by N. Faith and I. Wisniewski published in 1997 and also many internet articles.
W. Pokhlebkin claims that Russian distillation began between 1448 and 1478, based solely on the economic possibility of the time. No archaeological or written records are available to corroborate this view. But what was happening in surrounding countries?
In Germany there was knowledge of distillation in 1250 and the first distillation textbook was published in 1477.
In Sweden there is a written record of distillation in 1469.
In Estonia local distillation is mentioned in 1485.
In Poland 'wodka' is mentioned as a medicine in a 1533 Herbal and
private distilling was allowed in 1546.
In Ukraine excise records indicate distilling began in Lviv in 1545 and spread eastward.
In the Novgorod chronicles of 1553 vodka is mentioned as a medicine which probably is an influence from the neighbouring Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The city state of Novgorod had a Hanseatic trading settlement from 1229 and we know that German beer and wines were imported and sent on to Moscow. In 1478 Ivan III of Moscow conquered Novgorod and closed the Hanseatic kontor. He also imposed a state tax on all alcoholic beverages. But we cannot assume from this that it included locally distilled alcohol. In 1886 some 90% of the vodka was imported into Russia from Estonia and the distiller Wolfschmidt of Latvia was a supplier to the Russian tsars Nikolai I and Alexander III which does not indicate an extensive Russian distilling industry.
The terms 'khlebnoe vino' and 'goriachee vino' are recorded in 1653 and the names show their derivation from the German 'branntwein' and 'korn'. The first official use of the word vodka was in 1751 although 'vino' was used on labels into the 19th century.
So the task is to fix when distillation actually took place in Russia rather than just having the knowledge of it or importing it. Based on events in neighbouring Poland and Ukraine it would be more likely in my view to be between 1500-1545.