Horilka – a great (small) way to support Ukraine

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

Horilka is to vodka as Scotch is to whisky – a unique national take on a spirit. We should all drink this triple-distilled Ukrainian wonder.

Horilka is a terrific drink that is little known in the outside world. It’s time to put that right.

Ukrainian horilka

What is Horilka?

“Horilka” is vodka from Ukraine. When I was British ambassador in Kyiv, I ran an unsuccessful campaign to persuade the Ukrainian government to press for geographical indicator status for this unique Ukrainian beverage. At the time, Swedish, Russian and Finnish friends based in Kyiv all told me that Horilka was better than Swedish, Russian or Finnish equivalents (I shall not identify these wise and sophisticated individuals, as some represented some of the vodka-producing countries mentioned). But so far as I am aware, nothing ever happened.

Horilka: how we can help

Here are two ways in which we can help support Ukraine:

(i) we as consumers should seek out and buy Horilka next time our vodka supplies need topping up. Horilka is excellent – traditionally triple-distilled for extra smoothness. Other countries produce great vodka, too – Polish vodka, say, or Swedish vodka. But none of these – correct me if I’m wrong – are known by a single word encompassing the country of origin and the product. Just as “Bourbon” means whisky from the United States, or “Scotch” means whisky from Scotland, “Horilka” means vodka from Ukraine. It’s unique and deserves wider recognition and more sales. Check it out.

(ii) The outside world – including the European Union – should immediately recognise Horilka as a geographical indicator. Geographical indicators, or GIs, apply when a product originates from a specific country, region or locality. Famous examples include Champagne. You can’t call a drink Champagne unless it comes from the Champagne region of France, even if your product is just as good or better. Irish cream is another GI; so is Parma Ham. Just as you go into a bar and ask for a “Scotch” rather than just a whisky, or “Champagne” rather than “sparkling wine”, in future people should ask for a “Horilka” rather than a mere vodka.

A long-term project

Boosting Horilka will be a long-term project. Visiting my local supermarkets in Vienna to secure Horilka for this piece I found other brands – including Russian ones – but no Horilka. Putin’s unprovoked and bloody invasion may be temporarily stopping Horilka producers in Ukraine from exporting.

No Horilka in “Billa”

The image of my golden Dürer bunny enjoying a chilled snifter is what Germans call a “Symbolbild” – a symbolic image, as I could not source any Horilka. But if Ukraine emerges intact and – despite the terrible loss of life and suffering – to some degree victorious from the current war, enjoying and protecting this product will be a small action we can take to spread Ukrainian values – and quality – around the world.

It’s time to celebrate Horilka.

Russia-Ukraine war: other resources

If you want to know more about why President Putin launched an unprovoked and catastrophic war against Ukraine, see my Russia/Ukraine category.


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3 Responses

      1. I’m Austrian und worked appr. 25 years for EU-Projects on reconstructing drinking water plants in the ukraine and also learned to love the Horilka. My favourite distillery was “Ystinna” pure or with honey or pepper. There has been a online dealer in Vienna, but i can no longer find the dealer on net. I still have a few bottles in reserve and hope that he is not bankrupt.

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