How to drink vodka like a Russian
To say that Russians have a reputation for being able to drink a vast amount of vodka might be a cultural stereotype, but it happens to be true.
In 2012 Russia drank 1.37 billion litres of the spirit, making Russia the world’s biggest vodka market and its people experts in the art of its consumption.
According to a legend, the first Russian vodka was produced by a monk named Isidore in 1430. This “bread wine”, as it was known, was first produced exclusively in the Grand Duchy of Moscow. It remained fairly low in alcohol content, below 40% abv, until the mid 18th century. It was mostly sold in taverns and was quite expensive. The first official recognition of the workd vodka came in 1751 in a decree by Empress Elizabeth which regulated the ownership of vodka distilleries.
By the 1860s state-manufactured vodka was the common choice of drink for many Russians. In 1863, the government monopoly on vodka production was repealed, causing prices to plummet and making vodka available even to low-income citizens, with vodka making up 89% of all alcohol consumed in Russia by 1911.
While many of Russia’s drinking customs are rooted in tradition, others are aimed squarely at withstanding the pace of a prolonged session, with tricks such as downing a raw egg a common practice.
Click through for a brief insight into the drinking customs and traditions of drinking vodka in Russia…
Before drinking vodka, it is tradition for some Russians to consume a raw egg based on the belief that it will help you make it through the evening and leave still standing. While not generally recommended, this tactic essentially lines your stomach allowing you to remain sober for longer.
If the risk of salmonella poisoning proves too off-putting, drink a tablespoon of sunflower oil instead, which apparently offers the same protection. A well-prepared Russian will probably have eaten a couple of boiled potatoes, consumed one or two raw eggs and a table spoonful or two of sunflower oil before arriving at their host’s abode.
Always eat immediately after a shot
One of the biggest mistakes made by those less familiar with the art of drinking vodka is failing to eat between shots. Generally speaking, vodka is always drunk as part of a meal, with guests eating little and often throughout the night. No Russian would drink vodka without also eating zakuski (snacks) after each shot to help soak up the alcohol. Zakuski usually consists of pickled vegetables with black bread or varenyky – stuffed dumplings.
Serve it cold
Vodka should be served directly from the fridge or freezer with no ice, according to Russian tradition. If you are being really picky, drink it from special vodka glasses, which look like small wine glasses and have a capacity of at least 70 ml. This ties in with the Russian belief that those who drink vodka by small glasses will get drunk quicker than someone who drinks vodka from a bigger glass accompanied by zakuski.
If you are drinking in Russia expect to finish what you have been given or risk offending your host. In fact, tradition stipulates that one should never put a glass with alcohol still in it back on the table, while it is considered bad luck to put an empty bottle back on the table.
While those outside of Russia might be fond of a vodka Martini or even a Cosmopolitan, Russians by tradition are not au fait with mixing vodka. Not only should you serve it neat, once you have started drinking vodka you shouldn’t start drinking any other spirit.
This habit is said to stem from severe Russian winters, when a warming shot of vodka was welcome relief. Today, there is only one exception to the rule when it comes to mixing vodka, with Russians not unknown to mix their vodka with beer.
Share and share alike
Never top up your own glass without first filling the glasses of your companions. Traditionally, vodka should be poured out to all of the people present at the table, although they are not required to drink it. Furthermore, some Russians think it rude to accept something the first time it is offered. Therefore if you are entertaining, you should offer several times to top up the glasses. Also a shot glass should always be filled from the table, never by raising your glass to the bottle.
Offer a toast with every sip
Every shot should be followed by a clink of your glass and a toast, except if you are at a funeral when the touch of a glass is forbidden. After taking your shot, knock your glass of the table and take a bite of “zakuski” before refilling your glass. Be warned, it is considered very bad luck to make a toast with an empty glass.
Toasts can be as elaborate or banal as you like celebrating friendship to your pet pooch, however the second toast of an evening is traditionally reserved for za zhenzhin – “to the women”.
Common toasts include :-
- Za zdorov’ye! For our health!
- Nu, za vstrechu! For our meeting, then!
- Za vas! For you!
- Nu, poyehali! Cheers!