Ukrainian Vodka: An Expat’s Guide

If there is one thing that Ukraine is known for, other than the ability to meet hot Ukrainian girls, it is vodka. While it may be cliched to death, vodka is an essential part of Ukrainian culture. Serving as the country’s national drink, Ukraine consumes more vodka per capita than any country on earth. Today, we’re discussing everything you need to know about Ukrainian vodka as an expat.

Let’s get started!

What is Vodka?

Stolichnaya is sometimes drank in Ukraine, even though it is Russian.

Vodka is a clear, distilled beverage that originates in Eastern Europe. It is produced from any ingredient that has fermentable sugars like rye, barley, and wheat.

Ukrainian Vodka, or Horilka?

In Ukraine, the traditional drink is called Horilka, and it is distilled from wheat or rye. Because “hority” in Ukrainian means “burning,” this implies that Horilka is hot and spicy in contrast to vodka.

Instead of filtering Horilka as is done with vodka, Ukrainians enjoy the taste of different unfiltered flavors in Horilka. This includes fruit, honey, spices, and even milk. However, it is also worth noting that Ukrainians use the words vodka and horilka interchangeably, as they are essentially the same thing.

Different Types of Horilka

Horilka comes in several different commercial varieties. In terms of home-distilled Horilka, there are numerous varieties involving different ingredients. Different companies produce types of Horilka, such as Nemiroff, Pervak, Hlebniy Dar, and many others.

Honey Pepper Vodka: A Ukrainian Specialty

The most famous of all Ukrainian vodka is Honey Pepper Vodka.

The most famous brand is Nemiroff, which has been around since 1872. Honey pepper vodka has become one of the most widely recognized Ukrainian products globally. The taste includes a strong hit of spice followed by the sweetness of honey. The combination of spices, apples, and honey gives it the color of whiskey.

Don’t be afraid to try it, as it won’t burn your mouth off.

The History of Vodka in Ukraine

The shaky structure of the Soviet Union made Ukrainian vodka a necessity.

Ukrainians, especially those who lived in the Soviet-era or the 1990s, have decades of vodka drinking experience. Drinking vodka reached its height in the 1990s when the break-up of the Soviet Union produced a massive shockwave of depression in newly-independent Ukraine, forcing many Ukrainians to drown their sorrows.

In the mid-1980s, Soviet dictator Mikhail Gorbachev launched an anti-alcohol campaign by raising the price of vodka in the Soviet Union. As Russians and Ukrainians couldn’t afford vodka, they turned to samogon. Samogon is homemade spirits, which were more potent and dangerous than vodka. Much like Prohibition in the United States, Gorbachev’s efforts failed, and Ukrainians devoured vodka throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

A generation of laid-off miners, steelworkers, and underpaid workers turned to vodka to ease the pain. People reminisced about the good times while denouncing the new generation of oligarchs and bandits. Vodka conversation topics shifted from World War II to skyrocketing food and gas prices, the latest political news, to the latest local gossip, and natural disasters. Today, this includes topics such as Chernobyl, the war in Eastern Ukraine, and the loss of Crimea.

How To Drink Ukrainian Vodka

The traditional way to drink Ukrainian vodka often means having a snack with it too.

Ukrainian vodka culture combines many aspects of Russian, Ukrainian, and European cultures.

First off, Ukrainians pour everybody a shot of vodka, and one drinker says a toast before everyone drinks together.

There are some basic rules. The person who starts pouring vodka must continue to pour throughout the night. There should be a break between the second and third shot, and empty bottles should not be left on the table.

Another funny fact is that there is no word for a “shot” in Russian or Ukrainian. Ukrainians call a shot “drinking 50 grams.” This makes for a funny conversation when you hear Ukrainians go on vacation to Turkey or Egypt the first time, trying to explain to the bartender “give for me 50 grams please,” producing laughable confusion.

With each new round, a different drinker must take their turn with a riveting speech to try to outduel their fellow drinkers with whit as he strives to maintain his composure. Intricate speeches are made, touching on love, family, business, and other areas of success.

Additionally, Ukrainian vodka is often consumed alongside a snack, like a piece of rye bread and some salo.

Giving a Cheers in Ukrainian

When drinking, Ukrainians generally say one of two phrases: “Budmo,” which means roughly “let’s live for the moment” in Ukrainian, or “Za Zdorovye,” which means “for our health” in Russian.

Thus, this hints at the fact that many Ukrainians believe, to some extent, in the medicinal value of vodka. Vodka is thought to disinfect the body and eliminates harmful bacteria in the event of a nasty sour throat.

According to some babushkas, vodka also warms up a person during a cold Ukrainian winter in the Carpathians.

While the above facts can be disputed, vodka can definitely disinfect wounds on the skin when medicines are in short supply. It also may or may not solve impotency issues, depending on how much is consumed.

Either way, even the most rugged babushkas will look like beauty queens after a few shots, and sweaty Ukrainian men will look like movie stars to female drinkers after a few rounds.

Vodka: Risky Business

Despite the positives, vodka can have risky consequences. Like any form of entertainment, vodka drinking comes with a need for responsibility in Ukraine.

There is no last-call like in America where vodka drinkers call it quits at 1:45 am, such that the bartender gets to go home at a reasonable time. Ukrainians don’t care about the bar, the bartender, or any man-made curfews.

Ukrainians keep going until the vodka runs out.

Every city and village in Ukraine is like downtown Miami. At around 4:00 AM, after the third bottle, the conversations seem to strangely get more political. The most experienced Ukrainian drinkers begin to rant about what Bill Gates’ agenda with free vaccines in Africa really is, why George Soros helps refugees, who started the coronavirus, why the Soviet Union broke up, and who actually controls Donald Trump.

The Night Progresses…

After the conversation touches on freemasonry and world global conspiracies, things get back on track. After a few more vodka shots, even the most notorious Adidas-clad “gopniks,” which means “red neck bandits,” will start talking with the confidence of a doctor or professor about science, medicine, psychology, or any other subject.

Because vodka is generally a male beverage, the wives and girlfriends of vodka drinkers spend sleepless nights at home while they suspect their husbands or boyfriends are on day 1 of a “zapoy,” or drinking binge.

Ukrainian wives seem surprisingly accepting of their significant others binging compared to Western women.

Some experienced vodka drinkers come home so drunk that they drink the water from pickle jars to sober up before going to sleep. Half of the pickle solution makes it in the mouth of the drinker, while the other half ends up on the carpet in a pool of broken glass. If that doesn’t work, “belaya goryachka” sets in. This is a paranoid state where the person doesn’t know where he is or even who he is. Suddenly, he crashes on the floor as if knocked out by a Mike Tyson punch, or a Vitali Klitschko “Udar” as the Ukrainians say.

For the single man, perhaps he’ll end up sending a few late night messages to local girls on Tinder.

Ukrainian-Style Hangovers

Hangovers from Ukrainian vodka are the worst.

The next day, a vodka drinker experiences a massive hangover and tries to rationalize all the bruises and scars on his body. From talking to his friends, he establishes a rough timeline of what happened the previous night, similar to The Hangover film series.

He already has a rough idea of who he needs to apologize to and for what. But none of that matters. The urgent issue is easing the pain and “fighting fire with fire.” He needs some more vodka, but must choose wisely. He takes a couple shots of honey pepper vodka and passes out again. He has lucid sweaty dreams that take him from the sarcophagus of Chernobyl to the night clubs in Odessa.

Our hero wakes up again with several missed calls. The first step is to empty his bladder, which he does simultaneously while apologizing to his hysteric girlfriend, dropping f-bombs. She has lost it, and he realizes the only way to save this one is to spend some of his hard-earned grivnas at the flower shop on some roses.

He heads to the flower shop and picks up some vodka at the liquor store on the way back to ease some of his pain and guilt from the realization of how much money he spent on partying the previous night. He feels guilty about some of the things he did the previous night, and vows not to drink for a long time.

Luckily, his girlfriend forgives him, and he spends the next few days sobering up.

Conclusion

In conclusion, vodka produces some rough, but legendary nights. If you’re not ready, that’s entirely understandable. Nowadays, Ukrainian vodka drinking traditions are under attack from the aim to Westernize, attempting to replace our traditions with drinking wine and beer.

But, this is not surprising considering that male testosterone levels are down globally, especially in the context of changing gender roles. In any case, vodka drinking is like being a child soldier, it’s not for everyone.

You got to grow up in it and “have some balls,” as they say. Go hard or go home!

We hope you enjoyed reading our guide to Ukrainian vodka.

Good luck out there, and of course, Budmo!

-Expat Ukraine

PS: If you are interested in meeting Ukrainian girls, check out this website.

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