The drinking and purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 18.
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, however in practice most small stores found throughout Poland will not ID you if you look like you could possibly be 18.
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 pronounced ZHIV-y-ets
Tyskie pronounced TIS-kye
Okocim pronounced oh-KO-cheem
Lech pronounced LEH
Warka pronounced VAR-kah
Łomża pronounced Uom-zha
Perła pronounced Perwa
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.
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 is never free, and is pretty expensive too compared to the average price of a meal about 4zl for one glass. Beware that even "still" bottled water, while not visibly bubbly, will still contain some carbon dioxide.
Carbonated mineral waters are popular, and several kinds are available. Poland was known for its mineral water health spas pijalnie 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. Across the country there is broad choice of bottled water with very high content of minerals, called woda mineralna.
Opinions regarding the safety of tap water vary: odds are it's OK, but most residents opt to boil or filter it anyway.
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.
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.
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. Tea houses with large selection of good quality teas and a relaxing atmosphere are gaining popularity.
For the most part, a good coffee can be had for PLN8-12 a cup, while a cup of tea can be purchased for around PLN6-9 unless you happen to order a small kettle, in which case you'll probably pay something between PLN9-12.
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. Mead is produced by several companies including Apis in Lublin Today Poles have a strange relationship with mead. All of them have heard of it, almost none have ever tried it.
Poland does make wines around Zielona Góra in Dolnośląskie, Małopolskie and Podkarpackie in the Beskids with the most famous Polish vineyard in of the Dionisos of Jasło (http://www.winnica.golesz.pl/ website only in Polish) and 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.