History Of Vodka


Savored by peasants and Tsars, condemned by clerics and the architects of perestroika, vodka has been the joy and scourge of the Russian nation for centuries. But what are the origins of the Russians? favorite drink? Did vodka emerge as an authentic national discovery from the brewing-shops of the monasteries of medieval Russia, or was the secret of its preparation imported from elsewhere? When was it that people first experienced vodka?s now famed property of ?knocking drinkers...
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Savored by peasants and Tsars, condemned by clerics and the architects of perestroika, vodka has been the joy and scourge of the Russian nation for centuries. But what are the origins of the Russians’ favorite drink? Did vodka emerge as an authentic national discovery from the brewing-shops of the monasteries of medieval Russia, or was the secret of its preparation imported from elsewhere? When was it that people first experienced vodka’s now famed property of “knocking drinkers off their feet?”

With formidable scholarship and considerable dry wit, William Pokhlebkin, one of Russia’s best-known historians, sets out on the detective trail. His aim: to reveal the strange truth about his country’s most famous tipple. The result is a triumph of historical deduction. As he uncovers the social, economic and technical background to the emergence of vodka, and indeed tells us how and with what the spirit should be drunk, the author creates an unconventional but true-to-life portrait of the society and social psychology that gave birth to today’s Russia. He argues that those who have controlled the vodka stills have controlled the density of Russia—first the Boyars, then the Tsars, and in this century the Bolsheviks. In Pokhlebkin’s view Gorbachev unwisely attempted to suppress vodka, allowing the Mafia to seize control of its production and distribution. Perestroika was thus doomed.

Pokhlebkin believes that both prohibitionism and drunkenness are scourges which encourage one another. He insists that vodka itself doesn’t make people drunk, only irresponsible and uncultured ways of consuming it. A History of Vodka is the work not only of a fine scholar but of a passionate advocate of the virtues of vodka and a stern critic of those who have misused it.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Alcohol has been a far more important part of human history than most historians have recognized, potent for good and ill. Russia has known it under the name of vodka, and has been second to no other country in feeling its influence. Anyone wanting to learn how and where its distilling began, about how production became a monopoly of the nobility and finally of the government, and about how perestroika tried to put a stop to alcoholism, and why it has failed, must turn to this very learned, very informative book.”—Victor Kiernan
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
``This text was never intended for publication,'' Pokhlebkin solemnly warns us in his foreword. It is pretty much downhill from there, which is something of a shame, given the intriguing premise of the book. The author notes that he undertook writing this history as a ``civic duty'' when asked by the Russian government to establish the legitimacy of the Russians' claim to the invention of vodka. It seems that in the late 1970s, a number of countries began challenging not only whether Russia was indeed vodka's homeland, but even whether the nation's distilleries had a right to use the name vodka (the Russian diminutive for water) on their bottles of the colorless spirit. ``The laws of the world capitalist market are ruthless,'' Pokhlebkin reflects, ``they take neither emotion nor tradition into account.'' While convincing on the veracity of vodka's Russian heritage (it was invented, he says, between 1440 and 1478, probably in a Moscow monastery), he is such a humorless and ponderous writer that the book becomes unintentionally funny. Vodka should be imbibed straight, and only with ``exclusively Russian national dishes,'' Pokhlebkin intones. What about cocktails? ``Cocktails are merely a means of getting drunk, not a gastronomic category,'' he sniffs, ``and in any case Russians would never abuse vodka in this fashion.'' The reader is frequently reminded of a misguided Nabokov narrator--or perhaps of Greta Garbo's Ninotchka. (Nov.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780860913597
  • Publisher: Verso Books
  • Publication date: 4/1/1992
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 8.25 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Table of Contents

Translator's Note
How and Why this Book Came to be Written
1 The Origins of Alcoholic Liquors in Russia 1
Vodka in Its Social Context
The Terminology of Alcoholic Liquors
The Meaning of the Word Vodka
Old Russian Terms for Alcoholic Liquors
Russian Terms for Alcoholic Liquors in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
References to Alcoholic Beverages from the Ninth to the Fourteenth Century
Techniques for the Production of Alcoholic Drinks in Russia in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
The Earliest Forms of Technical Equipment before the Rise of Vodka Production
2 Vodka from the Fourteenth to the Nineteenth Century 41
The Rise of Distillation
Factors Expediting or Signalling the Advent of Vodka
The Social, Moral and Ideological Consequences of the Appearance of Alcohol Distilling in Russia
Where Was Vodka First Made?
The Political and Military History of the Moscow State during the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries
Economic and Social Conditions in the Moscow State at the End of the Fourteenth and during the Fifteenth Century
Why Do the Chronicles and Account Books Tell Us Nothing?
Fixing the Date
3 The Terminology of Grain Spirit from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Century 100
Distinguishing Grain from Grape
The Terminology of Grape Wine from the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century
Trade and Everyday Terms for Grain Spirit from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Century
Figurative and Slang Terms for Grain Spirit in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
Industrial and Technical Terms for Grain Spirit and Its Quality
The Historical Significance of Terms for Grain Spirit
The History of Liquid Measurements in Russia
The Rise and Development of the Term "Vodka" from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century
4 Vodka Production and Its Control 145
The Evolution of the Technology of Vodka Production
Raw Materials
Methods of Purification
The Equipment and Technology of Distilling
Chronology of the Rise and Development of Russian Vodka Production
The Five Vodka Monopolies
5 Vodka and Ideology 175
Vodka under the Tsars
Vodka after the Revolution
The Anti-Alcoholism Campaign
Vodka as a Positive Influence
Appendices 189
1. The Gastronomic Significance of Vodka, and How It Should Be Consumed
2. Modern Vodkas of Russia and the Other Republics
3. The Alcoholic Strength of Wines and Spirits
4. The Effects of Alcohol on the Human Body
5. The Raw Materials and Production Techniques of Other Principal Spirits of the World
Afterword 208
Notes 210
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