Vodka is a strong, clear, typically colorless liquor, usually distilled from fermented grain. It is commonly thought that the term is a diminutive of the Slavic word "voda" for "water," although other opinions beg to differ (see below).

The origins of vodka (and of its name) cannot be definitively traced; however, it is believed to have originated in either Poland or Russia. Interestingly, it was not until recent times when serious historical research on vodka as a product was conducted. Nearly all scholarly work on vodka was of drinking and selling vodka, rather than of manufacturing it. Paradoxically, the weakening of the Soviet Union somewhat changed this situation. In the second half of the 1970s there were two significant challenges on the priority and rights of the Soviet Union to market liquors named "vodka." The first of these challenges claimed that the Russian Revolution "discontinued" Russia's trademark of vodka. This was refuted fairly easily. The second challenge, made by Poland, carried more weight, obligating the Soviet Union to undertake substantial historical research to solidify Russia's priority. This research was was completed by 1979, and in 1982 the international arbitrage considered it convincing enough to grant the USSR the priority in vodka as Russian original alcoholic beverage and recognized the Soviet trademark motto "Only vodka from Russia is genuine Russian vodka."

Despite this judgment, Polish historians claim that the first written record of vodka occurred in Poland in 1405 in Sandomierz Court Registry (thus the Polish claim to vodka). The first written usage of the word vodka in an official document, in Russian, in its modern meaning is dated by the decree of Empress Catherine I of June 8, 1751 which regulated the ownership of vodka distilleries. While the word could be found in manuscripts and in a kind of old Russian comics called Lubok, it entered the Russian normative language around the middle of 19th century.

In the United States vodka was rarely drunk before the 1950s, but its popularity spread to the States by way of post-war France. By 1975 vodka outsold bourbon whiskey, ‘til then the leading spirit in the U.S.

Except for minimal flavorings, vodka consists of water and alcohol. Vodka usually has an alcohol content ranging from 35 percent to 60 percent by volume. The classic Russian vodka, however, is 80 degrees proof (40% alcohol), the number being attributed to the famous Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.

Vodka is the basis of a number of popular drinks, including the Bloody Mary, the Bullshot, and the Vodka Martini, a dry martini made with vodka instead of gin.