Sunday, December 23, 2007

Just Like Water, But Better

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.


JC said...

Holy shit you are hardcore - I love it! I haven't had vodka in forever, and it was the degreasing variety. Have you ever had that one that's made in Texas? I think it's Tito's. I'm sure it's shit next to Marusya.

Anna said...

Dude, you're fast! I've hardly finished editing that post. Thanks :)

I am moderately hardcore. It's all relative, really. Absolut can turn anyone off vodka. Blech. I have never heard of Tito's, but it does not inspire me with a great deal of confidence (based on the name alone). Is it good? Texans should stick to beef and leave the vodka to Russians. No offense.

JC said...

None taken. You're right. :)

I haven't had it myself. And I probably wouldn't know if it was any good or not based on my vodka knowledge, which is very limited (I did know the thing about potatoes although I only learned it within the last couple of years).

aimee said...

I cannot do straight vodka. I've tried it twice. The first time, I woke up sleeping outside my tent next to a complete stranger.

The second time was in an Estonian social club, where it was given as a prize for winning the general knowledge quiz. I woke up lying in the bath upstairs.

The pickle sounds like a good idea.

Where is vishnovka from? Have you tried it? I love that stuff.

Merry Chritsmas to you and yours

aimee said...

Erm, It's from Vishnovka isn't it? Yeeeeah, I'll get my coat.

NG said...

I remember when I first experienced the custom of drinking vodka with pickles--several years ago at your house for a holiday party a little after midnight. A few shots and about an hour later we tried to coax a friend off the hood of his car into the house. What a night.

One Food Guy said...

I too love Vodka - it must be the Russian blood coursing through my veins. My ancestors are from the old country, now Ukraine and Belarus.

I'm with you on Russian vodka - I'm a big fan of Stoli Gold. I like Belvedere, too, made from Polish Rye, not potato.

I like my vodka chilled, straight up with an olive, although I'm going to have to try the pickle!

Happy Holidays from One Food Guy!

Anna said...

Aimee - I will have to ask about that stuff because I have not heard of it. It may well be a place, but vishnya in Russian means cherry. Is the stuff a cherry infusion? Happy Christmas!

Neeru! Aaah yes, my parents' fabled holiday parties. I think they may have set a world record for the number of middle-aged Americans taking a shot of French vodka at the same time. Clyde was a bit of a nutter, with and without the booze, if I remember correctly. That was an interesting night.

One food guy - I have a bunch of relatives from the Ukraine as well! I haven't tried either of those vodkas, sadly. I am starting to understand that my vodka experience is rather limited. I used to loooove dirty martinis with lots of olives. Drank them all the time. They combined two of my favorite things - booze and salt. Liking vodka may well be genetic. Although one could make a strong argument for nurture as opposed to nature in this case :) Have a wonderful holiday!

Rachael said...

OMG, I love that you made this into a primer. Fantastic!

I have seen this ritual in action and it's certainly is impressive and fantastically social. Scary as hell, but social and impressive


leena! said...

ooooo, the pickle sounds like such a fun idea and a great excuse to eat more pickles. You are so hardcore, Anna. I think I may not be worthy.

Anna said...

Rachael - It is scary! And it's only social to a point. A very specific point at which people's eyes start crossing. Or they start mounting the hoods of cars. It's not pretty.

Leena - I am so not hardcore. At all. I suddenly turned in to a beer girl. I don't know when it happened. I reach for a beer now way before I think of vodka. Unless I am at my parents' house. They don't have beer. Ever. Oh, and pickles... Yum. Pickles. I have no fewer than 5 different jars of pickles in my fridge right now. An efficient and delicious salt delivery system, as I like to think of them.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. Just for the record though, whenever I visit my relatives in Poland I've never seen anyone chill their vodka. Its room temperature all the way, even with potato vodka. But I definitely know what you mean with the pickles :)

Allan said...

I went to a Russian wedding on Saturday. Many shots of Stoli were taken with pickles and without pickles. And we gave the groom a bottle of marusya. by the way, very good blog

Anna said...

Allan - Where did you find a bottle of Marusya?? Are you in the States? Can you share your source? Sounds like the wedding was great fun! Thanks!

Allan said...

I am in the boston area, but sadly my only source is a Russian friend who goes back to Russia every summer. sorry to get your hopes up. if i had a source in the US i would gladly share it!