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Vodka History Museum in Moscow 

Here you can read interesting from the history of vodka, national Russian drink :)




​1.Korchaga

 In the 9th-10th centuries, our ancestors noticed that fermented fruit, berries, honey and grains had ​​intoxicating properties. At that time, there were many varieties of intoxicating beverage, including wine, which it was decided to dilute with water with the coming of Christianity.Beverages made from fermented honey (mead) were considered to represent the pinnacle of the craft of alcoholic distilling. Barrels of unboiled mead mixed with hops and yeast were buried in the ground for decades. Thanks to the long fermentation process, mead was particularly valued and was considered to be a drink for the court and nobility. Simple folk tried to drink boiled mead that had aged for no more than two weeks.A special clay vessel – the "korchaga" – was used to prepare the first alcoholic beverages. In it was placed a mixture of different types of flour, fermented berries or fruit. Boiling water was then poured on top. The vessel was capped with a lid and placed in a Russian stove. As it was heated, alcoholic vapors accumulated on the surface of the lid and then flowed into the tray. The result was the first alcoholic beverage. The vessel would not be cleaned of the ingredients used in producing the beverage, and a long-term fungal culture was created that enhanced the flavor, taste and strength of the product. The alcoholic strength of the resulting beverage was in the order of 20 to 30 proof. 

 2.Flagon

 In those days, it was customary to drink from a large bowl, called a flagon [yendovA], and to clink vessels with force, thereby pouring some of the contents of your glass into your partner's and vice versa. This practice was due to the fear of being poisoned by enemies. 

 3.The Monk Zosima and His Moonshine Still

 In the center of the room, you will find a model of the first distilling apparatus. According to one version of the story, distillation was discovered by European monks (in Italy and France). In the Middle Ages, monks were actively searching for the philosopher's stone and the water of life, and they conducted various experiments with liquids. The monks managed to invent a recipe for the first "aqua vitae", which means "water of life" in Latin. The alcoholic strength of aqua vitae was 140 proof and thus unsuitable for drinking. Aqua vitae was first brought to Russia by Italian merchants but this beverage, a distillate of fermented grape juice, did not make much of an impression on our ancestors, because it was very strong at 140 proof. Water of life made its second appearance only 100 years later. At that point, the Russians were able to figure out that they could dilute it with plain water. 

 4. Portrait of Ivan III 

 National distilleries arose in the 15th century. The main raw material used in distilling was rye with some oats, wheat, barley and buckwheat added in.In 1474, Tsar Ivan III introduced the first state monopoly in history on the production and sale of grain wine and other alcoholic beverages. The first public house, or "korchma", was opened. At that time, there were not yet any glass bottles, so vodka was sold in 12-liter buckets. It was not only possible to get a drink at the korchma, but you could also have a bite to eat there. 

 5.Portrait of Ivan the Terrible 

 Drinking houses in the form of pubs [kabaki] appeared during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. They did not serve food, and there was nothing to snack on besides bread and salt.Vodka at the time was far from being an alcoholic beverage in the traditional sense: Its alcoholic strength did not exceed 50 proof, and it was a muddy yellowish color with a foul smell. People had to hold their nose and drink it down in one gulp, since no snacks were provided in the pub. People frequently sniffed their sleeves in order to endure the bad taste. The drink was sold in 143.5 gram cups. 

 6.Portrait of Aleksey Mikhailovich 

The favorite estate of Aleksey Mikhailovich Romanov, the father of Peter the Great, was located here in Izmaylovo. By his decree, large wine distilleries and glass-blowing factories were built in this area. 

 7.Large Portrait of Peter the Great 

 Peter the Great contributed to the development of drinking traditions. He was a big fan of noisy and boisterous parties. Women for the first time were allowed to drink together with men. It was Peter who started the tradition that has survived to the present day of pouring a "penalty glass" for latecomers. Nowadays it is usually 50 grams of vodka, but in the time of Peter the Great a person who was late for the imperial reception was poured a "great eagle cup," which held 1.5 liters of grain wine and had to be drunk in one gulp. Foreign ambassadors were amazed at this custom and sometimes took with them another ambassador: one of them drank, and the other conducted conversations with the Emperor about affairs of state.Peter did not encourage excessive drinking. He introduced a penalty for excessive alcohol consumption: the "medal for drunkenness," which was cast in iron, weighed 6.8 kg and had to be worn by the offender around the neck for a period of about a week. 

 8.Portraits of Elizaveta Petrovna and Catherine II

 The term "vodka" first appeared during the reign of Elizaveta Petrovna, when it was established by law.With Catherine the Great came the Golden Age of Russian vodka. If previously the quality of alcoholic beverages left much to be desired, then with the advent of the reign of Catherine everything changed fundamentally. The dull yellow color of the drink became crystal-clear, and the unpleasant odor was masked with fragrant extracts of herbs, fruit and vegetables. It became very prestigious to keep different types of vodka, "ranging from A to Z", in storerooms. At this time, vodka in Russia attained such a high quality that Catherine presented it as a gift to various famous people of that era, including Voltaire, Diderot, Kant, and Goethe. 

9.Portrait of Nicholas I ​

 A legend from the time of Nicholas I describes how the famous Russian gesture of "clicking against the throat" started. In Russia, this gesture is widely known and understood to be an invitation to have a drink. A wing on one of the angel statues of the Peter and Paul Cathedral (located inside Peter and Paul Fortress) was damaged after a violent storm in 1830. Building scaffolding was too expensive, so the emperor declared that the craftsman who would climb up and repair the statue himself would be compensated with anything he wanted. A search was started to find someone daring enough to carry out the repairs without scaffolding. It was quite a difficult task, but eventually they found a daredevil named Peter, who used rope to climb to the top of the cathedral and repair the wing. As a reward for this feat, he asked for the right to be served for free at all drinking establishments. The emperor gave him a special letter with the sovereign's seal. When Peter presented it, he would receive a glass of vodka, but his happiness was short-lived. After a week of carousing in various taverns, he discovered that he had lost the letter. He again had to ask for the mercy of the sovereign. The tsar became angry and refused to issue him with a new letter. Instead, he ordered that Peter be branded on the neck under his right cheek bone. Now, when Peter entered drinking establishments, he would pull his collar aside and click against his brand. According to the legend, this is how the characteristic gesture of clicking against the throat, meaning an invitation to drink, came about. 

 10.Portrait of Dmitry Mendeleev

 Before the 19th century there was no particular vodka standard in Russia. It was produced by mixing water and grain alcohol together in certain proportions, and the different varieties of vodka varied in strength from 40 to 120 proof. Thanks to the work of Dmitry Mendeleev, scientists were able to standardize the process of making vodka and, in 1868, a uniform strength was established for vodka: it could not be lower than 80 proof.In 1894, the composition of vodka was patented as the Russian national vodka: "Moskovskaya osobennaya." 

11.Manufacturers and Vodka Bottles

 At the same time, the country decided to replace pubs with taverns [traktiry], where it was possible not only to drink vodka, but also to get a snack. The measure was aimed at reducing drunkenness. The question of selling vodka in quantities smaller than a bucket was also raised. This issue was connected with the new, more cost-effective European machinery for manufacturing bottles, which had been introduced to Russia. Now glass did not have to be blown. It could be formed by machines. The "shtof" bottle gained particular popularity. Vodka producers worried about their "brand recognition" when they ordered bottles for their products. Everyone tried to come up with their own trademark bottle design. Bottle-flasks, conical bottles, decanters, as well as "Bear" bottles all appeared on the market.11.Revolutionary ShowcasePartial and then total bans on the sale and consumption of vodka were gradually introduced at the beginning of the 20th century. A prohibition law was introduced in 1914. Only industrial alcohol for medical purposes could be produced in factories. Active propaganda against drunkenness could be seen everywhere. Alcoholism as a social ill was put on the same level as tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases. Temperance societies were formed. Underground moonshine stills were started. 

 12.Bust of Lenin

 Vladimir Lenin did not like vodka. He preferred beer, and in particular the variety that was brewed in Munich, Bavaria. Maybe this was why, when he came to power, he did not repeal the prohibition law. 

 13.Repeal of Prohibition

 In 1924, Stalin returned vodka to the status of the main national treasure. He ​​abolished all ​​temperance societies and restarted the production of vodka. The quality of vodka rose to a high level. There​​ ceased to be any poor quality products.

 14.Vodka in the Great Patriotic War

 In 1941, Stalin signed the order "On 100 grams for servicemen". Alcohol was delivered in barrels to the front. It was diluted with water and given to servicemen, who each received 100 grams per day. It was used to boost morale. Soldiers remembered their comrades who did not return from battle over vodka. The tradition of "washing" honors also arose at this time. If a soldier received an award (medal, title), then, before putting it on, the soldier would put it in a glass, pour vodka, drink and only then pin the award to his uniform. In our time, it is customary to "wash" the purchase of a new apartment, car and other important events. 

15.1950s-1970s

 Vodka continued to develop in the post-war years. New water processing, purification, and softening methods were developed. The Russian vodka "Moskovskaya osobaya" was awarded a gold medal at an international exhibition in Bern in 1953. Nikita Khrushchev forbade the sale of vodka on tap in cafeterias and eateries. People were forced to buy a bottle of vodka in the store and then split it three ways with casual drinking partners. This is connected with the fact that a bottle of the very cheapest vodka, "Moskovskaya", cost about 3 rubles, and the average Soviet citizen could only afford to spend 1 ruble on lunch. The vodka had to be poured out under the table. How was it possible to divide it equally? Particularly resourceful citizens were able to estimate that 1 half-liter bottle contained exactly 21 glugs, so each glass received 7 glugs. 

16.Portrait of Gorbachev. 

Anti-Alcohol Campaign, 1985 to 1990When Gorbachev came to power, Russia again fell on hard times: the period of perestroika began. Groceries could only be purchased with special coupons, and such coupons were also issued for vodka. People were rationed to a liter of vodka, or 2 half-liter bottles, each per month.When vodka was eliminated, people resorted to drinking all sorts of liquids containing industrial alcohol (colognes, window cleaner, paint thinners). As a consequence, the mortality rate rose due to the use of these various surrogates. The country was flooded with foreign manufacturers of potato booze. The number of various speculation schemes also increased.As a consequence, billions of rubles in revenue were lost to the state budget and only 5 years later, in 1990, was it realized that this decision was erroneous. The difficult process of restoring the ruined distillery production began. 

17.Showcase with Boris Yeltsin 

 In 1992, Yeltsin abolished the state monopoly on vodka. Anyone could buy vodka abroad or produce it under license. As a result, many poor quality products and foreign pseudo-vodkas appeared on the Russian market. The financial position of the state deteriorated sharply. In 1993, the state monopoly was again established, but from 1996 all production of alcoholic beverages fell into private hands. However, there are now GOST regulations governing production, and these make it possible strictly to regulate the quality of the produced vodka. 


You can find out more about Russia, its customs and culture during one of our tours - for example, Izmailovo Kremlin and Vodka History Museum.