If there's one thing you need to try while travelling through eastern Europe it's the local liquor. The region is considered to be the home of the “water droplet” drink where it began being distilled over a thousand years ago already. Now, when you walk into a Polish or Ukrainian supermarket you'll see literally hundreds of bottles on offer, and all at dirt cheap prices that you can't find anywhere else.
You might wonder what goes well with vodka. You're in luck, vodka, because of its taste, is much like black or white clothing, that is, it goes with just about anything, even other types of alcohol! What you're left with, then, is a great amount of choices to be made. Some popular dishes in Poland and Ukraine include salo (pig's fat) and black bread. Another favourite was perogies. Yet another was simply fruit. And at least one suggestion was chocolate, of all things! Luckily, there is some good chocolate available in Poland (Cadbury) and Ukraine (Svitoch). As for mixing with other beverages, I won't go into any detail simply because one look at any cocktail menu will give you an idea of where vodka is used. In some countries, it's even mixed with beer.
Here's a list of some of the vodka you can buy in Poland and Ukraine. To be sure, the list is not comprehensive and it is strictly my personal opinion. You might want to do your own research!
This vodka burns a little going down, but I think it has one of the most distinct tastes. You might have heard or even seen of this vodka before as it is famous for the piece of bison grass included in every bottle. The folks I met suggested apple juice either mixed in or as a chaser. The choice is yours, I found the vodka enjoyable both mixed and neat.
Polmos Spirytus Lubelski
You've no doubt heard of this one because it's one of the legally strongest alcohols sold on the retail market. It is essentially one step below cleaning solution. Whatever the case may be, you might want to water this one a little since the alcohol content and taste is very strong. A common concern with this one is that you will go blind. No, you will not go blind if you buy the stuff bottled by an approved company and sold in shops. Just make sure the lid is sealed. If not, it's probably home made stuff and that stuff can have some dubious origins. Either way, this is one of those Polish cultural things you might like to try.
A smooth vodka that some folks liked to mix with beer. Strange, but true. This company also offered several versions of their vodka mixed with different flavours such as cranberry. This is also a popular export of the country so it shouldn't be too hard to find it in your home country.
This brand offers a few types of vodka, among which include an original vodka and a honey-flavoured type. I preferred the honey-flavoured kind, especially when one restaurant I visited served it with hot water, a slice of orange and (I think) a bit of clove. That was a pleasant drink to have a cold day and easily replicable at home.
Whereas Poland refers to it as “vodka,” Ukraine knows it as “horilka,” which translates roughly as “liquor.” Either way, Ukraine offers its own vodka, both at home and abroad.
Playing on Ukraine's proud history as home of the Kozaks, this vodka takes its name from the Zaporezhan Sich, the island used by the Kozaks as their training ground. We tried this vodka at the neat bar in Lviv called Kriyvka and did shots as if it was tequila, with salt and lemon. Not bad, but the vodka stands on its own with a cube of ice or two.
One of the more expensive bottles of vodka you can buy, this one comes nicely packaged with a cork top and its own plastic cork screw. Many people recommended this vodka to me and told me that the best way to check how good a bottle of vodka is to see how you feel in the morning. If you feel fine, then the vodka was distilled well and made with the best water. If you feel like you got run over by a garbage truck, then the vodka may not have been distilled as well and may have used some sort of chemical to help the fermentation process. After a bottle of Khlibna S'Loza, however, the morning after was just dandy. A nice tasting, easy drinking vodka.
A popular export from Ukraine, Nemirov offers a couple of varieties abroad, the most popular is the honey peppered type. Within Ukraine, however, they offer even more flavours, some are good, some are just so-so. This is a popular choice in bars across the world since the honey peppered vodka offers a delightful sting going down. Compared with other available vodkas, however, this one is priced less than other vodkas in its class.
Another smooth vodka and priced similarly to that of Klibna S'loza above. We drank this one while eating chocolate and, I think, they went well together. This vodka in particular was better to be done in shots rather than sipped as you can with other vodkas.
And there you have a good list of vodkas to try out when you visit Poland and Ukraine! As always, please be careful and drink responsibly.