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Russian Vodka
November 8, 2007 17:06

Vodka has long become quite an independent and self-sufficient personage of Russian culture: there are jokes and songs, books and research works on this “hot” subject. Majority of foreigners have an image of vodka imprinted in their minds as the foremost symbol of Russia (along with Bear and Martyoshka).

Though in Russia it is a custom to drink vodka at a gulp, trying not to taste it while drinking, there are alternative recommendations as well, such us, for example, the following citation: “As any noble drink, vodka should be drunk little by little, by sips, so that it could wash all the mouth cavity. It is bad taste to gulp vodka.” Whatever the “proper” way of drinking might be, it is surely a must to take some snacks right after it.

The word “vodka” itself has been known since the 17th century and most probably derives from the word “voda” (“water” in Russian). Long ago it was also called “bread wine”, “burning wine” (gorilka), “bitter wine”, etc.

The most important point in the process of vodka production is the distillation of spirit. Vodka, as you all probably know, is a strong alcohol drink, which consists of water and ethanol refined of any admixtures as much as possible. ‘Russian vodka’ usually contains 40 percent of ethyl alcohol.

 For centuries Russian vodka was mainly made of rye. Rye grain as raw material for vodka production was its most characteristic feature up to the 1870s. After the 1930s wheat replaced rye in production of popular sorts of vodka; in certain period of economic dislocation and war vodka was made of potatoes even. Other grains are added in small proportions to rye as basic and indispensable ingredient for Russian vodka: oats, wheat, barley and buckwheat. Sometimes vodka can include fruit, berry, or spice additives.

Speaking about the history of vodka and Russian vodka in particular, some sources state that the first drink of the kind was made by the Arabian doctor Pares in 860 for medical purposes. Others claim that for the first time spirit was extracted by Italian alchemists, who in the 11-12th cc. were looking for the elixir-stone and distilled wine’s essence, what they thought to be its soul, or spirit (SPIRITUS in Latin). Hence is the name of spirit.

Vodka first came to Russia in 1386, when the ambassadors of Genoa brought grape alcohol, called aqua vitae, to Moscow and introduced it to the Grand Prince, boyars and foreign pharmacists. However, the drink did not take roots in Russia that time and was claimed unhealthy.

Russian distillation tradition dates back to 1472-1474, when technology of making grain alcohol from Russian raw products was invented. Tsar Ivan III held the monopoly in producing and selling vodka; following his order vodka was sold in special places watched by guards. In 1533 Ivan IV the Terrible opened Moscow’s first ‘tsar’s tavern’ selling vodka without snacks. Peter the Great endowed the Russian nation with the freedom of distillation, yet with nobility taking the exclusive privilege in it. In 1755 Catherine the Great allowed certain noblemen, depending on their titles and merits, to produce and sell vodka free of duty. Every landowner making vodka had his own brand and took care of its high quality.

 In those days only aromatized vodkas with herbal, fruit or berry additives were called vodkas. Many noblemen found it prestigious to have vodkas with aromatizing agents to all the letters of alphabet.

In 1789 the chemist T. E. Lovits from Saint Petersburg suggested that wood charcoal could be used for purifying vodka from fusel oils.

In 1894 Special Committee of scientists headed by the great Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleyev introduced the paragon of vodka. They specified the proper spirit-water ratio that was optimal for the homogeneity and taste of vodka. According to it, the classical Russian vodka must contain 40 percent of spirit, be transparent, colorless and clear, and have a peculiar slight flavour and a soft taste of spirit. This product was patented by the Russian government as Russian national vodka, titled “Moskovskaya Osobennaya” (Moscow Special).

Hence the expression comes: “Only vodka from Russia is genuine Russian vodka!”

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Tags: Russian Traditions Russian Cuisine Russian Vodka   

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