Some stereotypes are true. Russians really do know their vodka. Swedish vodka is fit only for degreasing engines, French vodka plays in the minor leagues, at best, but the Russians… Russians are the studs of the vodka world. They do it right.
There are a two key factors which determine the quality or smoothness of vodka. 1) The purity and quality of the water. Water in Russian is voda. Vodka - voda... get it? Except they drink way more vodka than water over there.
2) The amount and quality of wheat or rye. Contrary to popular belief, it’s only the Polish that make vodka from potatoes - the Russians always use grain.
Russians are very particular about how they drink their vodka, following a strict ritual that distinguishes their vodka drinking from all the other sissy vodka practices on the planet (why on earth would anyone dilute their vodka with fruit juice? Unless they are drinking Swedish vodka, that is).
So here’s what you do if you want to drink like a Russian. This procedure is not for the faint of heart, I warn you.
To drink like a Russian:
- Take a shot glass (real Russians fill a normal glass half way up but I don’t expect that level of devoted alcoholism out of normal people) and fill it to the brim with vodka which you just took out of the freezer.
- Pick up the shot glass with one hand, a dill pickle with the other.
- Toast to the health of your friends (hopefully, you are not doing this all by your alcoholic lonesome).*
- Exhale strongly to get all the air out of your lungs. Quickly take the shot and bite the pickle, neither stalling nor breathing between the swallow and the bite. [Getting rid of all the air prevents the burn of the vodka as it comes back up.]
*Update - my father has requested a correction to the above point, lest one of you actually attempt to stuff a pickle into your mouth without breathing, choke, and then sue me for all I am worth (which is really not all that much, although I do have some nice earrings). You are supposed to exhale once more after swallowing the shot and then bite the pickle. I guess I do it (and many other things) without thinking.
- Rinse and repeat until the desired doneness. Err, drunken-ness.
Up until recently, I thought that Grey Goose was the cat’s pajamas (whatever that means). That is until my father brought back a bottle of Marusya** from his last trip to Moscow. The vodka, in its elegant, narrow-necked 500 mL bottle, is not currently exported from Russia and not terribly easy to come by while there. This stuff, people… This stuff left me speechless. It’s so good that the makers recommend drinking it at room temperature, which is unheard of for vodka.
With Marusya, all the rules and rituals go out the window. You really don’t need to chill it to take the edge off – there is no edge. It is smooth and velvety. You don’t need a pickle chaser to take the burn off – the vodka goes down without a hitch. There is no kick back, no diesel-like fumes punching up into the nasal passages after the swallow. There is no taste, no after taste, no trace of engine cleaner. It’s like buttah. It made for a memorable Thanksgiving and I hope it does the same for this coming New Year’s eve.
I cannot wait until this stuff is sold in the U.S. Or at least until they get a freakin website. Until then, I have to rely on my Dad’s frequent business trips to Moscow for my supply of Marusya. Man, that stuff is good.
* Russians toast with “Za vashe zdorovye,” to your health. Not to be confused with “Na zdorovje”, which is a Polish toast. We take this very seriously, in case you couldn’t tell.
** Marusya, a pet name for Maria, is a very Russian name for a very Russian woman.