Some Strange Traditions Behind Vodka Tasting in Russia

“Russia is not the right climate for wine and we just don’t consider beer a serious drink, this, is why we drink vodka.”

– The wise words of our cruise ship guide Elena.

“Please make sure you eat while you do the vodka tasting.”

– She’s done this before.
Vodka tasting in Russia on a cruise

I was on board the Rakhmaninov sailing somewhere between St Petersburg and Moscow on the Volga River with Gvidon Tours. With only two hours scheduled off the boat they needed to do something to entertain us, and that ‘something’ was vodka tasting.

It’s Russia, it had to be done.

I’d already been kind of disappointed that we weren’t served vodka at breakfast, like I assume happens in all Russian households, but the 5 shots I was about to taste were going to make up for it.

Five shots in 45 minutes.

“Let’s get drunk”

Vodka tasting in Russia

If ever you see a Russian person take their middle finger and flick it against their thumb on their jawline by their ear, run.

It means, “let’s get drunk”.

The story goes back to the times of Peter the Great. He wanted someone to fix the spire of the church and one carpenter volunteered. After the work was done Peter the Great gave him a valuable document that allowed him to drink at any bar in the city for free. Unfortunately this guy lost the piece of paper after a night of drinking (definitely something I’d do) and so went back to Pete and asked for another one.

Instead, Peter the Great, knowing it would happen again, tattooed his neck.

So whenever the lucky guy went in a bar he just flicked his neck and the goodies were his.

 “There is no such thing as an ugly woman in Russia… there’s just not enough vodka.”

– traditional Russian saying

Traditionally Russians greet guests on the threshold with bread, salt and vodka. If the guest is wanted the wifey would wait at the bottom of the staircase with the tray. The guest would then drink the vodka and kiss the wife three times. If they’re not welcome they’ll be met at the door and be expected to still take the vodka, but get the message to go.

Our toasts

Vodka on the boat

There are two rules of vodka drinking in Russia: never sip and never drink without a toast. These are the traditional toasts we did on the cruise, and the vodkas we tried. I felt they got progressively worse…

First: to us!

– Sickle and Hammer

Second: to women! (guys had to stand up)

– Putinka 

Third: to health!

– Stolichnaja 

Fourth: to men!

– Zubrovka

Fifth: to friendship!

– Honey and Pepper Pertsovska

“If you want to be happy one day, get drunk
If you want to be happy one month, get married
If you want to be happy one year, find a lover
If you want to be happy for life, be healthy”

– traditional Russian saying

“The father of Russian vodka”

It was the same Russian scientist, Dmitri Mendeleev, who developed the periodic table of elements and the formula for Russian vodka – Russians love him.

In Russia it’s deemed that three is the perfect number for a bottle of vodka, and so a popular chat up line for young men is to ask women, “Would you like to be the third?”

The repercussions

Five shots of Russian strength vodka in 45 minutes.

It was obvious from the loud antics at dinner that night, and the fact that an hour later none of the vodka tasters were at the evening activity, that all the fishy tapas and rye bread in the world were not going to soak that up quick enough!

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