The frosty fingertipped folk of Russia have always been known as hard-living, hard-drinking people. And no drink moreso than vodka, booze that runs so concentrated through the blood of its culture they'll gladly follow leaders that are only half-Russian if the other half is made up of vodka. But recently, Russians have started to lose their taste for the potato-based liquor in favor of an even more traditionalist approach to hooch hounding: moonshine.
As if their political attacks on gay rights wasn't enough to cement its status as the Alabama of regional powers, moonshine or samogon (meaning "self-distilled) has taken over as the Russian poison of choice. Dating back to the 14th-century, samogon was always a Russian rural favorite because it's as easy to make as it's hard it is to keep down. Russian moonshine follows no recipes or restrictions and can be made from just about anything: table sugar, barley, beetroots, tea, and even particularly thick fruit jams. One old Soviet practice was to pour sugar, yeast, milk, and water directly into your washing machine, put it on tumble for two hours, and distill whatever fresh lavender hell came sludging out of it.
Yet, its popularity in Russian culture was held back on account that samogon was illegal to make or consume for most of its existence. Starting with Peter the Great, it wasn't until 1997 that the Russian federation decreed the making of samogon legal for personal consumption. Another part of samogon's yeast-barrel boom has to be Russia's semi-regular bursts of semi-Prohibition. Since the late aughts, the Russian government has once again tried to curtail Russians from drinking themselves into an even earlier grave by restricting access to and raising the prices of vodka. Between that and the country's struggling economy, this has led many Russian heavy drinkers to switch to more cost-effective ways of getting loaded -- like self-distilled moonshine, VAT-free black-market booze, or drinking industrial-grade bath cleaner straight from the squeezy bottle.
Samogan drinkers have the highest survival rate of those, so their numbers have been skyrocketing for the past two decades. To the point that, in some rural areas, it's believed that for every shot of vodka, four shots of samogon are drunk -- and that's just for breakfast. Even when the Russian government cut the price of vodka after realizing it made up most of its gross domestic product, many are resisting the switch back to that newfangled fancy-pantsy drink. Meanwhile, samogon is breaking into new markets as well, with Russian hipsters (who are like American hipsters but have actually read Marx and wear their ushankas unironically) opting in on its microbrewing scene. And with our bars still closed, what better way to stay in the drinking game than by purchasing an old washing machine on Russian eBay, pouring in whatever moldy fruit, potatoes, and leftover gasoline you have lying around, weathering the long lonely winter like a Russian.
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