How to… Drink Vodka

 How to … Drink Vodka

The Belarusians say that a festive table isn’t worth its salt without a bottle of vodka. Despite having a population of just 10 million, Belarus is the world’s fifth largest vodka consumer. Much is produced by Minsk’s famous Kristall factory and is a snip at just over $2 a bottle.


kristall vodka

  • Traditionally, vodka was made by distilling whichever crop had been harvested in abundance but is now only made from the finest grain. Samogon vodka, made from potatoes, is a specialty of the Puscha area (near Belarusian Brest on the Polish border).

  • The authorities have a huge job on their hands cracking down on moon-shine operations; various underground hose pipes have been located – used to siphon home-made vodka across the border into Lithuania.

  • During World War II, Soviet soldiers were given a 100ml ration each day but it was never enough. Some would even filter surgical spirit or anti-freeze through their gas masks.

  • These days, as soon as two or more men gather around a table, the vodka comes out and all is well with the world. No business meeting ever takes place without a bottle; deals are sealed with a colossal binge. True trust comes from having been drunk together.

  • As each shot is knocked back in one gulp, it’s easy to find yourself getting more than tipsy. The best way to stay the distance is to drink water in between each glass and help yourself to zakuski nibbles: herring, pickles, caviar on black bread, sausage, salo (solid lumps of pig fat) and cheese. For the blinimen, it’s a test of endurance; the last man standing is the ‘Vodka Tsar’.

  • New purchases — such as a car or fur coat — must be toasted, to show appreciation for your good fortune. Medals also have their own toast, being dropped into a glass of vodka; the proud recipient drinks from the glass before removing the decoration and pinning it on.

  • It’s impossible for a birthday, anniversary or wedding to go by without toasts — sometimes as many as 50 – as each guest has their chance to stand up and give a speech. Everyone swears undying Minskaya Kristall Vodka friendship, praises the hosts, thanks the guests, lauds the beauty of the women present and expresses hopes for the future. It’s an uplifting, albeit rather sentimental, experience. Women are off the hook, as local shampanskoye (fizzy wine with the distinct aftertaste of feet) is the usual tipple.

  • Vodka isn’t just a drink; it’s a talisman and wonder cure for every malady going. Popular belief has it that there’s nothing vodka can’t cure — from a cold to dandruff. If you’re thinning on top, wash your hair with it and you’ll soon have luxurious growth sprouting. If your feet are smelly, soak them in it. If your dog coughs, someone’s likely to recommend you give him a dose, too!


International Living magazine first published my article, in an extended format.