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Who knows why he’s winking?!

ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES

Russian culinary skills may not be so well known but their drinking ability is legendary. Indeed the relish and rapidity that alcohol is consumed – even at fanciful affairs – can lend to the impression that the hors d’oeuvres, salads, soups, meat, and desserts are a five-course vodka chaser. Anyone who has spent much time living under tsarism or communism can easily understand this; if you’re going to be pillaged by Cossacks or force marched to Siberia in your underwear the least you can do is be totally blotto.

As economic freedoms have developed over the last few years there has been a boom in alcohol availability. If in the old days people had to queue endlessly outside state-run liquor outlets and cosmetics stores, now any thirteen-year-old with a fistful of rubles can get a drink at one of the zillion kiosks or stores selling this hot commodity. In order to keep things interesting, fate has provided alcohol shoppers with a new challenge: the game of poisonous spirits. Certain shady entrepreneurial types have decided to make a fast ruble at the expense of people’s insides by sloughing off spirits of unseemly origins (including industrial alcohol, floor cleaner, and rocket fuel) watered down to look like vodka, cognac, whisky or whatever, all neatly packaged in bottles craftily labeled something completely normal. The best way to avoid the stuff is to avoid buying spirits from dubious kiosks and to spend the little extra at a more up-grade store that takes some responsibility for the goods it moves. Spirits and wines (not beers) that have been produced or imported legally bear a blue and white excise strip placed over the cap or seal.Make sure that whatever you purchase bears this little strip of paper; it doesn’t guarantee the quality of the product but it does increase your chances of living through a Russian drinking experience (at least, it won’t be floor cleaner that will get you). In the past most locally produced vodka, cognac, and port wine came in bottles with non-resealable aluminum tops: once a bottle was opened there was no question that it was going to be finished. These days screw caps are becoming the standard yet old habits are hard to break. It’s no longer “impossible” to stop once you’ve started a bottle, it’s just “bad luck” to do so.


 
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