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Drunk in love! What to drink in Poland

Poland is on the border of European "vodka" and "beer culture". Poles enjoy alcoholic drinks but they drink less than the European average. You can buy beer, vodka and wine. Although Poland is known as the birthplace of vodka, local beer seems to have much more appeal to many Poles. Another traditional alcoholic beverage is mead. Polish liqueurs and nalewka (alcoholic tincture) are a must.

Officially, in order to buy alcohol one should be over 18 years old and be able to prove it with a valid ID (which is strictly enforced).

Beer

Poland's brewery tradition began in the Middle Ages. Today Poland is one of top beer countries in Europe.

Although not well known internationally, Poland traditionally sports some of the best pilsner-type lagers worldwide. The most common big brands include:

Żywiec (pronouncedZHIV-y-ets)Tyskie (pronouncedTIS-kyeh)Okocim (pronouncedoh-KO-cheem)Lech (pronouncedLEH)Warka (pronouncedVAR-kah)Łomża (pronouncedUom-zha)
Micro-breweries and gastro-pubs are on the rise, in particular in the larger cities, and many delicatessen or supermarkets carry smaller brands, including hand-crafted beers of many types.

Pubs usually offer one or two varietes of draught beer (draft beer), usually only pilsner-type lagers. When ordering a beer, you can choose between "big one" (duże; 0.5 liter) or "small one" (małe; 0.3 liter). You can also ask for "beer with juice" (piwo z sokiem), then a barman will add a bit of sweet syrup (raspberry or ginger). The most popular snack ordered with beer is potato chips.

Vodka

Common brands are:

Żubrówka (Zhoo-BROOF-ka) - vodka with flavors derived from Bison Grass, from eastern Poland.

Żołądkowa Gorzka(Zho-wont-KO-va GOSH-ka) - vodka with "bitter" (gorzka) in the name, but sweet in taste. Just like Żubrówka, it's a unique Polish product and definitely a must-try.

Wiśniówka (Vish-NIOOF-ka) - Cherry vodka (very sweet).Krupnik (KROOP-nik) - Honey and spices vodka, a traditional Polish-Lithuanian recipe (very sweet). During winter, many bars sell Grzany Krupnik(warm Krupnik), where hot water, cinnamon, cloves, and citrus zest or slices are added.

Żytnia (ZHIT-nea) - rye vodkaWyborowa (Vi-bo-RO-va) - One of Poland's most popular rye vodkas. This is also one of the most common exported brands. Strong and pleasant.

Luksusowa (Look-sus-OH-vah) "Luxurious" - Another popular brand, and a common export along with Wyborowa.Starka "Old" - A vodka traditionally aged for years in oak casks. Of Lithuanian origin.

Deluxe (more expensive) brands include Chopinand Belvedere. Expect to pay about 100 zł a bottle (2007 prices). Most Poles consider these brands to be "export brands", and usually don't drink them.

Biała Dama (Be-AH-wa DAH-ma) is not actually a vodka but a name given by winos to cheap rectified spirits of dubious origin, best avoided if you like your eyesight the way it is.

Sobieski - rye vodka, one of the most commonly chosen by Polish people.

There are also dozens of flavoured vodkas. Apart form polish traditional flavours like: Żubrówka, Żołądkowa, Wiśniówka and Krupnik, you can easily buy some less obvious flavours like: pineapple, pear, blackcurrant, cranberry, grapefruit, apple, mint, lemon, herbs and others. The availability of different brands can vary in different regions of the country.

Wine

Poland does make wines around Zielona Góra in Lubuskie, in Małopolskie, in the Beskids and in Świętokrzyskie in central Poland. They used to be only available from the winery or at regional wine festivals, such as in Zielona Góra. But with a new law passed in 2008, this has changed and Polish wines are also available in retail stores.

As for imported wine, apart from the usual old and new world standards, there is usually a choice of decent table wines from central and eastern Europe, such as Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, the Balkans, and Georgia.

It winter, many Poles drink grzaniec (mulled wine), made of red wine heated with spices such as cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. A similar drink can be made with beer, although wine is the more popular method.

Mead

Mead - miód pitny is a traditional and historical alcohol drink in Poland. Mead is brewed from honey and has excellent unusual taste similar to wine. Original Polish mead contain 13-20% alcohol. Sometimes it can be very sweet. Today Poles have a strange relationship with mead. All of them have heard of it, almost none have ever tried it.

Cocktails

Poles are very keen on beer and vodka, and you'll find that cocktails are often expensive but can be found in most bars in most major cities. One of the best known native to Poland drinks isSzarlotka made ofŻubrówka vodka and apple juice.

Tea and coffee

Throw stereotypes out the door. For Poles, one of the most important staples to quench their thirst is not wódka or beer, but rather tea and coffee. The traditional hot drink is tea (herbata) while coffee (kawa) although known in Poland since close contacts with Turkey in 17th century, became more popular in last twenty five years. It is very common behaviour that if you visit friends at home or start a formal meeting you will be firstly asked: "coffee or tea?". Refusing a hot drink in this situation may be seen as impolite. It is rather unusual to talk or to meet with somebody without drinking one of those hot drinks.

When ordering a coffee, you'll find that it is treated with respect reminiscent of Vienna, rather than, say, New York. Which is to say: you'll get a fresh cup prepared one serving at a time, with table service that assumes you'll sit down for a while to enjoy it. Mass-produced to-go coffee remains highly unpopular, although chains such as Coffee Heaven have been making inroads. Curiously, there are still only a few Starbucks shops in the whole country, which are occupied mostly by teenagers.

There are four basic types of coffee which you will be offered in Poland. In small bars, fast food or at friends home (where usually they haven't coffee makers) you can choose between instant coffee (rozpuszczalna) or Turkish coffee (kawa po turecku or kawa sypana). The second one is a very specific Polish style, not known abroad. It is simply two teaspoons of ground coffee poured with boiling water. A traditional way is to serve it in glasses. In restaurants you can additionally order "a coffee from a coffee maker" (kawa z ekspresu). It may be a very small and strong, italian-style espresso or bigger one (200 ml)americano. During order a waiter or a barman always will ask you whether you want "black one?" (czarna?; without milk) or "with milk?" (z mlekiem?).

Ordering a tea, on the other hand, will usually get you a cup or kettle of hot water, and a tea bag on the side, so that the customer can put together a tea that's as strong or as weak as they like. This is not uncommon in continental Europe, but may require some adjustment for visitors. Drinking tea with milk is not popular, traditionally Poles add a slice of lemon and sugar (herbata z cytryną), unless they drink flavored tea. Tea houses with large selection of good quality teas and a relaxing atmosphere are gaining popularity. In such places you will get rather a kettle with brewed leaf tea. Funnily, drinking tea with milk is commonly believed in Poland to enhance women's lactation.

For the most part, a good coffee can be had for 5 - 10 zł a cup, while a cup of tea can be purchased for the same, unless you happen to order a small kettle, in which case you'll probably pay something between 15 - 30 zł.

Water

Drinking water with a meal is not a Polish tradition; having a tea or coffee afterwards is much more common. If you want water with a meal, you might need to ask for it - and you will usually get a choice of carbonated (gazowana) or still (niegazowana) bottled water, rather than a glass of tap water. As a result water isn't free, and is pretty expensive too compared to the average price of a meal (up to 4zł for one glass). Beware that sometimes even "still" bottled water, while not visibly bubbly, might still contain some carbon dioxide.

You can ask for a glass of tap water or a glass of hot water and receive it for free in most places. Therefore drinking tap water is considered to be rather weird in Poland.

Carbonated mineral waters are popular, and several kinds are available. Poland was known for its mineral water health spas (pijalnia wód) in the 19th century, and the tradition remains strong - you can find many carbonated waters that are naturally rich in minerals and salts. You can also travel to the spas such as Szczawnica or Krynica, which are still operational.

Many varieties of bottled mineral water that can be purchased originate from underground sources (since domestic spring waters are almost unavailable). Bottled mineral water usually has a neutral taste, unlike mineral water bought in water health spas which can have a very distinctive flavour. Some bottled mineral waters are regarded as very healthy due to their high content of minerals, like for exampleMuszynianka,Kryniczanka or all mineral waters sold in brown bottles.

Opinions regarding the safety of tap water vary: odds are its OK, but most residents opt to boil or filter it anyway.

Prices

Poland is still one of the cheapest countries in the European Union and its prices for food, beverages and tobacco are among the lowest.

Written by The Travel Valet

Photo courtesy of Foto Polska

By Sandy Karwacki-farber, BA about Poland

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