The earliest written records of Vodka production in Poland date from the 1400s, though some Polish historians claim that it was being produced around the southern city of Krakow at least a century earlier. Originally known as okowita (from the Latin aqua vita —water of life), it was used for a variety of purposes besides beverages. A 1534 medical text defined an aftershave lotion as being "Vodka for washing the chin after shaving." Herbal-infused Vodkas were particularly popular as liniments for the aches and pains of life.
In 1546 King Jan Olbracht of Poland granted the right to distill and sell spirits to every adult citizen. The Polish aristocracy, taking a cue from their Russian peers, soon lobbied to have this privilege revoked and replaced by a royal decree that reserved the right to make Vodka exclusively to them.
Commercial Vodka distilleries were well established by the 18th century. By the mid-19th century a thriving export trade had developed, with Polish Vodkas, particularly those infused with small quantities of fruit spirit, being shipped throughout northern Europe and even into Russia.
With the fall of Communism in the late 1980s, the Vodka distilleries soon returned to private ownership. Nowadays high-quality Polish Vodkas are exported throughout the world.