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Vodka in the Northern Capital

The citys relationship with the famed spirit dates back to the reign of Peter the Great.

Published: August 6, 2014 (Issue # 1823)



  • Vodka continues to be a staple at any celebration in Russia, whether it be a national holiday or a birthday party.
    Photo: Anthony Knuppel / Flickr

When foreigners think of Russia, one of the first things that comes to mind is vodka. The alcohol has become an inseparable symbol of the culture and has been so for hundreds of years.

The first distillery arrived in Russia during the reign of Vasily II, the Grand Prince of Moscow in the 15th century. As the story goes, a man brought back a prototype of a distillery from Europe but Vasily distrusted not only it but the man who brought it, believing that the influence of the West had corrupted him. Eventually, the man was able to escape imprisonment and flee to Italy.

Since the somewhat awkward introduction of then modern technology to alcohol making, vodka has played an important role in the history not only of the country but also of St. Petersburg. Ever since the reign of Peter the Great, the builder of the city and a well-known lover of spirits, vodka has remained intertwined with the citys colorful history.

In Peter the Greats day, vodka was not nearly as alcoholic as it is now, more of a strong wine than a spirit. During the raucous parties thrown by Peter, affairs known to combine all-night drinking with the emperors love for the stranger things in life, vodka was a key component.

It was during Peters reign that a tradition became commonplace: the shtrafnaya. This is a penalty drink for arriving late and it usually involves drinking a shot of vodka. Yet Peters version was closer to a liter and guests were forced to drink all of it before joining the party.

It was not until Catherine the Great ruled Russia that the first license for a distillery was granted. This led to a boom in the production of the spirit and by the beginning of the 20th century, there were 40 distilleries in St. Petersburg alone, an astounding number considering there are only three today in the city.

It was in St. Petersburg as well that the common ratio of spirit to water was discovered by none other than Dmitry Mendeleev, the creator of the periodic table of elements. He discovered that the perfect ratio was 38.5 percent, although this was rounded up to 40 percent in 1894 and has remained the standard ever since.

Yet peoples affinity for the spirit did not prevent Nicholas II, the last tsar, from prohibiting the alcohol from sale and consumption during World War I. After the 1917 revolutions, vodka makers were imprisoned and it wouldnt be until Stalins tenure as leader of the Soviet Union that the drink was re-allowed.

During World War II, soldiers were given a ration of 100 grams of vodka a day to calm the nerves. Yet despite its important role in the war effort and the peoples love of the spirit, Gorbachev in 1985 prohibited the drink. Although not as strict as the prohibition at the beginning of the century, sales were severely limited and even when sales resumed in 1987, people could only buy vodka from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Oct. 1


The St. Petersburg International Innovation Forum 2014 kicks off today at Lenexpo, where it will be presenting the latest and greatest ideas until Oct. 3. Focusing on economic development and the decisions and measures necessary to encourage development in Russias most important industries, the event is a possibility to discuss the innovations currently available in a variety of fields.


Representatives of the Russian and international media industries arrive in St. Petersburg for the first ever International Media Forum being hosted by the city until Oct. 10. With a variety of events on tap, including workshops, lectures and film screenings, the event plans to reemphasize the citys reputation as the countrys culture capital and as an emerging market and location for the visual arts.



Thursday, Oct. 2


The celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of Mikhail Lermontov continues with todays free exhibition in the citys Lermontov Library at 19 Liteiny Prospekt. Titled Under the Rustling Wings, the temporary exhibition will feature the costumes and scenery used in the 1917 production of Lermontovs play The Masquerade, which he wrote in 1835 when he was only 21 years old.



Friday, Oct. 3


Learn more about how to manage and evaluate employee performance during SPIBAs Human Resources Committee meeting this morning on Employee Assessment: Global and Local Trends. Starting at 9:30 a.m., the discussion will touch on such topics as the partnership between HR and business, reliable assessment strategies and more, with Tatiana Andrianova, the head of the SHL Russia and CIS branch in St. Petersburg, as the featured guest. Confirm your participation by Oct. 2 by emailing office@spiba.ru or calling 325 9091.


AmChams Procurement Committee Meeting is at 9 a.m. this morning in their office in the New St. Isaac Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.



Saturday, Oct. 4


Wine and cheese lovers will get their chance to revel during Scandinavia Country Club and Spas Wine Market Weekend. Going on today and tomorrow, wining diners can listen to live music, take part in culinary classes and, of course, sample a variety of fine wines from around the world. The cost of admission is 400 rubles ($10.30) for adults and 200 rubles ($5.15) for children.



Sunday, Oct. 5


Look for the latest fall fashions at the Autumn Market today in Freedom Anticafe at 7 Kazanskaya Ulitsa. The minimarket plans to offer clothes more flattering than the puffy jackets that are a staple of the citys cold-weather fashion, while offering the same amount of protection from the biting winds blowing off of the Baltic.



Monday, Oct. 6


SKA St. Petersburg, the citys KHL affiliate, welcomes Slovakian club HC Slovan in a match-up tonight at the Ice Palace near the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be purchased on the clubs website or in person at either the arenas box office or the clubs merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.



Tuesday, Oct. 7


Learn more about Russias energy industry at the St. Petersburg Energy Forum that begins today and runs through Oct. 10. Attracting industry experts and political and business representatives, the forum plans to welcome more than 350 plus companies and their representatives to discuss the future of Russias largest economic sector.



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