Motherland’s Milk

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 21 2012 @ 6:05pm


From a short history of vodka:

For a long time, vodka was similar to whiskey: it tasted and smelled strongly of the grains used to make it, and was called "bread wine." Until the twentieth century, only bread wine infused with herbs or berries was called vodka. The crystalline, nuanceless spirit that we now know as vodka emerged in the late nineteenth century, when the monarchy monopolized alcohol production and marketed the measure as a health initiative that removed the impurities in homemade bread wine.

That wasn't the only state intervention: 

[Victor] Erofeyev argues that the daily ration of vodka given to Russian soldiers during the Second World War was "as important as Katyusha rocket launchers in the victory over Nazism."

(He also cites those who see that ration as the cause of post-War Russia’s skyrocketing alcohol-dependency rates.) He tells us that the name "vodka" comes from Dmitry Mendeleyev, the chemist who established the standards for the beverage’s production and set the mark of forty per cent alcohol by volume. "Etymologically, the word ‘vodka’ is derived from voda, the Russian word for ‘water.’ (The addition of the letter ‘k’ makes it diminutive.)" But vodka also has many nicknames. Erofeyev lists, "the monopolka," “the bubble," "the crankshaft," and "the bitter stuff." Another euphemism for vodka appears in Faubion Bowers’s 1958 article, "Encounters in Moscow": "milk from a demented cow."

Buzzkill Mark Duffy collects "25 Fascinating Soviet Anti-Alcoholism Posters, 1929-1969." His caption for the one above: "Not until he's 10!"