The production of moonshine or bootleg vodka is illegal in Russia, though it is still done. This stuff of always dubious origins is called samogon
, and has been made from everything from shoe polish, to plywood, to medical disinfectant
. Many people have died from drinking samogon. When you travel to Russia, avoid this very real danger, lest you fall victim to the so-called "Yellow Death," which is the result of total destruction of the liver by bootleg vodka.
1. Only Drink Vodka in Russia with Trusted Friends
You should do this anyway - strangers can liquor you up and rob you or worse . . . but they also may have you drinking moonshine even if they have the best of intentions. For example, train travel in Russia
may throw you in with some seemingly friendly folks. While drinking vodka and Trans-Siberian journey may seem romantic, make tea your beverage of choice.
2. Only Drink Vodka that Comes from a Bottle with a LabelAny unmarked bottels should not be drunk from. Only drink vodka from bottles that have labels marked clearly with a known Russian brand. There are a lot of these in Russia, but bootleg vodka will not be marked. Moonshine or samogon could be hiding in flasks or bottles that are not labeled. Avoid these.
3. Only Drink Vodka from Freshly Opened BottlesIf the vodka bottle has a label, make sure that you see it being opened, or open it yourself. Legitimate vodka will be sealed, and the bottle will usually have a screw-on cap. Russians usually finish a bottle of vodka once they've opened it, so any bottle that contains vodka and doesn't require opening could contain bootleg vodka.
4. Don't Drink the Vodka in Russia if You are in Doubt
This might go without saying, but Russians can be very persuasive when the drinking begins. Eastern European hospitality
means that everyone drinks a lot when a bottle of vodka is opened. Refrain completely from drinking if you are worried the vodka may be bootleg vodka.
5. If You Want to Drink in Russia, Buy the Vodka YourselfLegitimate vodka is so easily attainable in Russia that the idea that anyone would resort to dangerous moonshine or bootleg vodka is inexplicable. However, if you want to drink with friends and are worried about the quality of the vodka, simply pick up a few bottles yourself at the local store.
6. Learn How to Identify Bootleg Vodka in RussiaRussian bootleg vodka can be identified, sometimes, by a powerful odor that exceeds the power of the bouquet of legitimate vodka. Bootleg vodka is can be made from detergents, paint thinners, and other dangerous ingredients. This vodka might also have a generic label - without a brand name and very little information on the bottle. While bootleg vodka is usually only drunk by the very poor, people have been known to drink it by mistake. Be wary!