Russia is a country of rich cultural and spiritual heritage. For ages foreigners have been intrigued by the “enigma of Russian soul” and tried to solve its mystery. But Russian culture would not be the same without our national drink - Russian vodka. For centuries vodka has been not only an inseparable attribute of Russian daily social life but also an integral part of Russian history.
 
But what do we know about our favorite drink? When and where was it invented, what is the “proper” way of drinking vodka, what food is the best to go with it, what is vodka made of, when was the first vodka monopoly introduced? The museum exhibition will answer these and many other questions.
 
According to the legend   monks of Moscow monastery were the first who started producing Russian vodka. During their visit to Constantinople they tasted grape spirit . The drink had such a strong impact on the Russians that as soon as they got back home they started to make the first hooch still. As there were no grapes growing in the homeland the spirit was made of grain. Extracted strong drink called aqua vitae (Latin for “water of life” ) became a prototype of the present-day vodka. The word vodka was derived from the word “voda” (meaning water), while in former times this drink was also called wine: bread wine, distilled wine, burning wine, burnt wine, bitter wine etc.  
 
At first, “magic elixir” was used by medics and perfumers for making herbal potions and perfumes. But in 1348 the Great Plague struck. There was no remedy against the “black death” and people were dying by thousands. In desperation medics tried to use distilled spirit to cure mortal disease.  And although soon enough it became clear that aqua vitaе could not help to fight plague, people liked the idea of “being treated with spirit”. Since that time “magical water” occupied people’s hearts and minds.
 
 “Vinokurenie” (vodka manufacturing) in Russia started to emerge in 1448-1478. During this period the technology of vodka distillation based on using local raw materials was developed. In1478, Tsar Ivan the Terrible introduced the first government “bread wine” monopoly by creating his own network of drinking establishments -“kabaks, to ensure that the profits went straight into the imperial treasury.
 
Attitude to vodka undergone many changes through time.
 
In the times of Peter the Great the propaganda of drinking in Russia reached unprecedented level. As soon as Peter the First came to power, he provided conditions for “excessive and continuous drinking”. Great reformer needed considerable financing for the development of his country. Thanks to legalized alcohol drinking the treasury was full with money from vodka sale . Still, treasury is treasury, but if people loose themselves into drinking there will be nobody to plough the soil, to build the fleet, to serve in the army. So it was required to drink “moderately and honestly”.
 
Pragmatic Catherine the Great also treated “public wine” seriously. She understood that noblemen distill their own vodka thus evading state monopoly. . She introduced  “ otkup” (a farming or a fee)  on “bitter product”.  So those who wanted to become a vodka manufacture had to pay to the Treasury first. Every landowner making vodka had his own brand and took care of its high quality.
 
During the reign of Alexander II and his successors Alexander III and Nikolay II Russia was  steadily increasing its economic power and influence over world market. In this period distilling industry was developing at a quickened pace, bringing worldwide recognition to Russian vodka producers.  In the second half of the XIX century it was one of the most profitable production fields.

The foremost Russian scientists worked to improve the quality of vodka. No other than the great Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleyev, better known to the world for his formulation of the Periodic Table specified the proper spirit-water ratio that was optimal for the taste of vodka.. In 1894 his 40° formula was patented under the name of “Moskovskaya Osobaya” (Moscow Special).
 
But despite scientists’ efforts to improve vodka people still kept drinking moonshine or samogon. As a result by the beginning of the 20th century drunkenness in Russia became so widely spread that the government had to establish temperance societies. And at the end of  1914 the government introduced the law to ban vodka production and sale.  
 
When Bolsheviks seized  power in Russia they brought difficult times to vodka industry. Socialist revolution of 1917 forced  a number of Russian vodka makers to emigrate, leaving Russia with their vodka making skills and unique vodka recipes. Among those who fled the new regime were the suppliers of His Imperial Majesty Court  P.A. Smirnov, N.L. Shustov, A.K. Keller etc.
 
In 1924 Josef Stalin cancelled the ban on alcohol. It is well-known fact that Stalin was a drinker. He ordered to give so called “commissar’s 100 grams of vodka” to the soldiers of the Soviet Army, fighting fascists in the Great War. Veterans say that it helped many of them to survive. They drank vodka to overcome stress and fears, to avoid getting frost-bitten. With vodka people commemorated those killed in battlefields, and celebrated medals and victories. During the War annual production of vodka increased up to 1 million decaliters and its manufacturing did not stop even for a day. Along with vodka on the now well-known Moscow “Crystal” liquor plant was produced the famous “Molotov’s cocktail” - the bottles with incendiary mixture, named after the Soviet foreign minister. With these bottles Soviet troops burned German tanks in the Battle of Moscow.
 
After the War vodka production kept booming until 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev launched his anti-alcohol campaign, backing it up with a series of measures to reduce alcohol production and sales. The campaign continued until 1990.  
 
For Russians vodka is not a trifle matter. It’s a drink close to human’s soul used both in joy and in sorrow. We drink it to celebrate an unexpected gain and to ease the pain, to welcome back a long-absent  friends and bid them good buy, to overcome stress and to cure depression. Vodka in Russia is irreplaceable all-purpose drink, the subject of novels and poems, songs and legends. That’s why exhibition of the Museum shows this drink not simply as a symbol of celebrations and merry pastime but as a part of national cultural heritage.
 The goal of the Museum is to tell guests the history of Russian vodka, introduce visitors to vodka drinking culture and acquaint them with production secrets of this unique drink that won worldwide recognition.
 
   

Яндекс.Метрика