How Much Vodka Do Russians Really Drink?

The fact that Russians start their day with vodka and have vodka at all business meetings has become such a cliche! How true is that stereotype?

Per capita consumption of vodka and other strong alcohol has always been scary. It does go down though – from 18 liters of pure alcohol per year in 2011 to 13,5 liters in 2014. I may have an answer – Why?!

Vodka ads in Cosmo

Example of vodka ads in Cosmo magazine

First of all, none of my friends drink vodka. Vodka is considered to be the drink for old people or for people of lower social and educational level. Girls and women almost never drink vodka. One of the most surprising things for me, when I moved to States were vodka (or vodka cocktails) ads in a Cosmo magazine. You can never find that in Russia.

What do people drink? Beer is popular among young people (legal drinking age in Russia is 18), wine is a drink of choice for people in their 30s. Men often like whisky (and a good bottle of whisky is always a good gift for a man). I can understand why somebody may want a shot of ice-cold vodka, but I have never been tempted to do one.

Another question I often get from my friends – do Russians drink vodka during most business meetings? I know that is a boring answer, but no. To make this text less boring, I will share with you the only story I have that relates to business meetings and drinking.

Long time ago I was working for a Canadian Ministry of Justice, Crimes Against the Humanity Department. We were working in Minsk, Belarus, investigating WW II cases. I still remember a meeting with one of the top government officials, which took place in our hotel at 8 am in the morning. That guy came in the room, carrying a briefcase. And immediately took a bottle of cognac, a chocolate bar and a lemon out of the briefcase and started to talk about Russia/Belarus hospitality and traditions. I was lucky to have a good excuse for not drinking – I was working as an interpreter in that meeting, but poor Canadian fellows had no excuse and had to enjoy the hospitality. That day had indeed look like what you see in Hollywood movies))

Do we say “Na Zdorovie”?

Na ZdorovieNo, never. We may raise a toast to the health and prosperity or to the hosts or to the women around us or to the success of mutual projects or to the great year or season. It is always a meaningful toast. Sometimes a long one. We are raised in the culture of War & Peace, we put our hearts and thoughts in toast speeches. Best bet for you as a foreigner if you make a toast is to say – “Za vstrechu” (to our meeting) or to say “Za udachu” (to the luck)

But in the modern times – people like you and me enjoy the same drinks!

Russian Standard vodka

If you do choose to drink vodka – make sure it is a good brand to avoid hangover. Russian standard is considered to be among the best!

Oh, and there are no bears on Moscow streets! I wanted to state that fact for a long time, but could not find a place to mention it. This text is an proper place. When you visit Moscow, you will see that Moscow is much more similar to NYC or London than you think. The quality of a mojito and the quality of an ambiance will all be top-notch! And pricey. But, agree with me – drinks in fancy bars have become more pricey in both NYC and London too in the last 5 years! Just don’t follow the per capita intake of alcohol and both you and your wallet will be fine! Enjoy!




Leave a Reply

  • Joe Lowry - 5 years ago

    Your story about Minsk must have taken place in Soviet times, as that’s the only epoch when a county called “Belorussia” existed. Then a gain, maybe that’s just a stereotype foreigners have about Russians… you don’t really believe that the former parts of the Imperium are truly independent. You still see them as your playground.. as “nash”…

    • Anonymous - 5 years ago

      do you mean ‘belorussia’ as an english country name or Белору́ссия as a russian country name?

      • Tanya Golubeva - 5 years ago

        It should be Belarus/Беларусь in any case I guess. Thanks for mentioning, I will look at the post more closely and fix that. When country was one of the Soviet Union republics, it was called Белоруссия.