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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

Thursday, Dec. 18


Improve your English and knowledge of British culture during todays FORM lesson at the British Book Center. These free English lessons with a native speaker elaborate not only on grammar particulars but cultural topics as well. Todays event will discuss the BBC Two documentary Victorian Farm Christmas.



Friday, Dec. 19


Test your mastery of parlor games during Game Evening at the British Book Center. Learn how to play a variety of classic, mentally challenging games and use your newly acquired skills to crush weaker opponents. The event beings at 5 p.m.



Saturday, Dec. 20


The citys Babushkina Park on Prospekt Obukhovskoy Oborony will be invaded by dozens of rocking-and-rolling Santa Clauses during todays Santa Claus Parade. Not only will they parade through the park but there will also be competitions amongst the festively-clad participants and a musical master class. There will also be a prize for the best-dressed Santa Claus.


Stock up your record collection during the Vinyl Christmas Sale at the KL10TCH bar on Konyushennaya ploschad today. Spend the afternoon perusing the records for sale while listening the classic, clean sound of records spinning out hits from a variety of musical genres and time periods.



Sunday, Dec. 21


TheZenit St. Petersburg basketball team returns to the northern capital this evening for a matchup with Krasny Oktyabr, a Volgograd-based basketball club. Tickets for the game, which tips off at 6 p.m. this evening, can be purchased on the clubs website or at their arena, Sibur Arena, on Krestovsky island.


Satisfy your sugar cravings during Sweet New Year, an ongoing seasonal festival at the Raduga shopping center. Each weekend of December will welcome hungry visitors to taste hundreds of different kinds of desserts made from a plethora of sweet treats. Workshops are open to visitors and seasonal gifts can also be purchased for those rushing to finish their New Year shopping.



Monday, Dec. 22


Pick out the latest fashions as holiday gifts for loved ones or as early presents for yourself during the Christmas Design Sale at Kraft on Obvodny Kanal, starting on Dec. 20 and continuing through Dec. 27. Designer clothes will be on sale every day of the week or you can buy something more festive to decorate the home while sipping on hot coffee and perusing the various master classes.



Tuesday, Dec. 23


Meet Arctic explorers Fedor Konukhov and Viktor Simonov during SPIBAs and Capital Legal Services event Arctic Expedition this morning in the Mertens House business center at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. The meeting will discuss the explorers ongoing eco-social project and how companies can use the project as a unique marketing opportunity. Email office@spiba.ru by Dec. 22 if you wish to attend.



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