Vodka: Toasting a Russian Tradition

Vodka: Toasting a Russian Tradition

MIR’s affiliate Moscow office is headed up by John Seckel, a Wisconsin expat who’s lived in Russia for years. In that time John’s made plenty of vodka toasts with many varieties and brands of Russian vodka, and with many good reasons for toasting.

We first approached John for tips on how to drink vodka. Instead John offered thoughtful insights into the reverence for this Russian beverage – insights that only someone who lives in Russia and loves Russian culture can gain.

MIR's John Seckel is offered a vodka toast, celebrating an award he just received <br>Photo credit: John Seckel

MIR’s John Seckel is offered a vodka toast, celebrating an award he just received
Photo credit: John Seckel

Drinking in Russian LifeIt’s not so much the art of drinking vodka and tips to “do it right” that are important. What’s important is knowing the part vodka plays in Russian life. It can be playful, somber – and also as useful as duct tape.

Great place for a winter shot of vodka: over ice - literally! - on Siberia's frozen Lake Baikal <br>Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

Great place for a winter shot of vodka: over ice – literally – on Siberia’s frozen Lake Baikal
Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

That Warm GlowIn history, soldiers – especially in World War II – were given vodka to help keep them warm. It was also used for medical and medicinal purposes and of course for celebrations. But to me this is really the most important point: Vodka is also a drink that helps one pass on to the “next world.” It’s not just a drink for celebrations or health purposes.

In war and peace, Russian soldiers received daily vodka rations <br>Photo credit: John Seckel

In war and peace, Russian soldiers received daily vodka rations
Photo credit: John Seckel

Toasting, After LifeAfter funerals, people come to the deceased’s home, or home of relatives of the person who passed away, to remember the life of the one who died. A picture of that person is placed in a central location in the home in a black frame, or with a black ribbon crossing the picture. A shot of vodka is placed in front of the picture with a piece of black bread over the top of the shot glass.

The adults at this gathering offer toasts and drink vodka in remembrance of the person. The vodka and bread placed in front of the picture symbolizes that the deceased person is still there with those remembering him or her, and taking part as well.

Toasting Winter with vodka toasts in Siberia Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

Toasting Winter with vodka in Siberia
Photo credit: Vladimir Kvashnin

Vodka, the Duct Tape of RussiaThere are seminars given for 101 uses of duct tape, from patching your ripped clothes to removing warts (really). I think you could do the same with vodka. As for me, vodka isn’t just for drinking. It’s practical, too. I keep a cheap bottle of vodka in my car at all times. Nope, for sure it’s not to take a swig if I get the urge. You just never know when you have to change a part on your car or check the oil and end up scraping your finger or hand. This time the vodka isn’t for keeping you warm, but for cleaning your wound before putting on a bandage.

And, OK I’m not sure car specialists would recommend this, but winters in Russia can be mighty cold. My side window mirrors that fold in always end up freezing in that position. I pour vodka on the icy frozen spots to get rid of the ice and – voila! the mirrors unfold. As useful as duct tape in the wilderness.

A vodka toasts and homemade piroshki Photo credit: Bruce Jones

A perfect pairing: a vodka toast accompanied by homemade piroshki
Photo credit: Bruce Jones

Vodka, A Russian EssentialIt’s my opinion, but I think vodka will be – or at least should be – included in every meal that serves Russian food. It’s so important to Russian culture, and to Russian cuisine.

На здоровье! – “To your health!”

Russian vodka is often paired with a variety of Russian appetizers, called <i>zakuski</i><br>Photo credit: Ian Felstead

Russian vodka is often paired with a variety of Russian appetizers, called zakuski
Photo credit: Ian Felstead

Travel to Russia with MIR

MIR has more than 30 years of travel experience in Russia, with an affiliate office in Ulan Ude (in Siberia), as well as in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Irkutsk, offering on-the-ground support. MIR’s full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

Learn more about vodka, Russia’s favorite drink – and taste it, too – on MIR’s scheduled tours to Russia or a personalized custom private journey.

Contact MIR today at [email protected] or 1-111-111-1111.

(Top photo credit: Renee Van Drent)

PUBLISHED: June 20, 2014

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