Russian Vodka Drinking Traditions
What does it mean to drink Russian Vodka "a la ruse"? It means that you should drink it in accordance with Russian drinking traditions... Vodka has long become an international drink without forfeiting its Russian roots. It isn't by chance that it's universally known by its original Russian name! You will only get the feel of true taste of Russian Vodka if you drink it "a la ruse"... Drink little by little, but drink up all of it! Russian drinking traditions are hundreds of years long dating back to the early medieval ages. Moreover, none of them is random for all of them carry their special meaning? You will only be able to fathom the secrets of Russian Vodka if you choose to follow them!
No Martini... Russian Drinking Tradition # 1.
"Russians drink Vodka neat and never mix it with anything..." This habit stems from Russian severe winters and other peculiarities of the Russian national character. There is only one exception from this rule. The only "cocktail" widespread in Russia is vodka... with beer (it's a well-known way of getting a quick intoxication which is fairly popular in the US and British drinking cultures, where vodka is replaced with Scotch or Bourbon). There is a joke in Russia: "Vodka without beer is your money wasted!" Many Russian proverbs contain a good measure of irony... Real connoisseurs will never mix vodka with beer - either in a glass nor in their stomachs. Statistically speaking, 95 out 100 bottles of vodka in Russia are consumed unmixed!
No Ice... Russian Drinking Tradition # 2.
"Russians serve Vodka cool and drink it from special vodka glasses..." It's more or less clear about Vodka being served cool. Just keep in the fridge or freezer. Although we have to admit that Russians are apt to drink vodka from any kind of glasses regardless of their shape or capacity, they use special vodka glasses which are most suitable for this purpose. They look like small wine glasses (with a shaft) or just small plain glasses. Mind it that the glasses containing less than 40-50 ml are not suitable for drinking vodka a la ruse! Their optimal capacity ought to be about 70 ml. This habit reflects an ages old popular wisdom: at the Russian table, the one who takes frequent drinks of vodka by small glasses will get drunk quicker than the one who drinks vodka by bigger glasses accompanying it with lavish "zakuski" (hors d' oeuvres). This also helps you avoid getting noticeably drunk. Hence the Russian proverb: "You will err if you drink by small swigs: you ain't get funky, but you get drunky".
Bottoms Up... Russian Drinking Tradition # 3
The ancient Russian tradition implies that vodka is drunk "bottoms up" not to hurt the host's feelings. No one will be forcing you to drink all your vodka by full glasses, however, once you drink a toast to someone present, you will be obliged to finish your glass bottoms up. In other words, it's one of the ways to show your respect for that person.
With "zakuski"... Russian Drinking Tradition # 4
"Vodka is drunk during meals..." Russians have a special idea of their HORS D' OEUVRES TABLE. In other words, it's a table laid specially "for vodka"... At the onset of its history, when vodka was a Czar's monopoly product and was only sold "from tap" in CZAR'S TAVERNS, no hors d' oeuvres were served with it: CZAR'S TAVERNS offered vodka only... Admittedly, vodka at that time was different. It only contained maximum 20-25 per cent of alcohol. Vodka has been getting "stronger" as the time passed, therefore nowadays Russians would only drink vodka without any hors d' oeuvres when they have none. "In the days of old, when a dinner is served in the house, the hostess was obliged to offer each guest a "charka" of vodka for clearing his throat and for better appetite, and kiss the guest as she offers him vodka glasses on a tray! I will follow this fashion with a touch of critique: it builds up your appetite; the hostess' sweet kiss adds pleasant scent to my lips, and vodka, to my teeth. But if you are not a beauty, my dear hostess, please serve your vodka when the dinner is over!"(Etching, 18th century).
With toasts... Russian Drinking Tradition # 5
"Russians drink Vodka with toasts..." Russian toasts constitute a separate subject. If more than two people get together to have a drink of vodka (Russians are not accustomed to drinking alone, unless they are alcoholics or people in the arts), prior to swilling the next glass someone needs to say a short toast. After that the drinkers clink their glasses, knock down their drinks, take a bite at their "zakuski" and refill the glasses, etc. As the Russian saying goes, "the first charka comes like a stick in your throat, the second flies in like a falcon, the others just dive like small birds".
Often, much, and for long... Russian Drinking Tradition # 6
Russians drink Vodka quite often. They usually drink profusely and spend many hours drinking Vodka. Sometimes they drink it all night long and knock out the hangover the morning after with just another shot of vodka - just to feel better. By and large, we don't insist that you strictly abide by the 6th Rule... To get a true feel of the Russian drinking traditions, you should start by trying the first five traditions for size. Usually the guests took a long and noisy leave from the host's house parting with one another several times in a row, drinking many a "one for the road", etc. When they came out of the house to the yard, the host treated them to "one for the stirrup", especially if his guests were riding horses. Finally, when the guests left and could no longer be seen, the host sent out a rider to chase them with more charkas of vodka, and they drank their "ones for over the hill". This tradition has almost been forgotten due to the advent of automobiles... In the meantime, "one for the road" has survived and remains a frequent Russian farewell toast even now!