Useless travel advice

I want to thank the reader Pat for finding this gem of an article:

Dangers of Bootleg Vodka and How to Avoid them in Russia

If ever there was a more useless article for a complete non-issue, it would be this. They might as well have written an article on how not to get killed by Islamic insurgents in Russia, with a single bullet point telling you not to go wandering around in the more remote mountains of Ingushetia, as thought that was your plan from the beginning. 

Check out these highlights:

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.

First off, I’ve tried samogon twice. It’s not “bootleg vodka.” Samogon is samogon and vodka is vodka. Getting normal, safe vodka is an incredibly easy process in Russia. Your best bet would be going to a place known as a “супермаркет.” We don’t really have an English word for that. Oh wait, we do! The word is supermarket! Yes, so you go to one of these places and there will be an alcoholic beverage section just like in advanced Western countries! There you will find several hundred bottles of vodka of varied price and brand. Use one of your hands to examine, take, and transport the bottle to the cashier. Exchange an amount of Russian money equivalent to the price of the vodka plus any other products you have taken, and the item or items will now become your property.  It’s that easy!

Now on with some more useless advice

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.

If you are a tourist in Russia, or even a student, chances are you will be in either Moscow or St. Petersburg. Nobody is going to liquor you up and rob you. You will have to seek out people who are actually willing to rob you, and they won’t think to liquor you up first. In any case, these people will not be drinking moonshine. Aside from the cheap but labeled vodka which can be found in any supermarket or produkti shop, these types can usually get large bottles of cheap beer or more often than not, horrible malt-beverages such as Jaguar, Ten Strike, or Alco-Limon. If you want to know what those are like, just imagine Adolf Hitler, transformed into an adult beverage. That’s what these “cocktails,” as they are deceptively called, are- concentrated liquid Hitler in a can.  As for what to drink on the Trans-Siberian railway, I can’t recommend anything because I don’t recommend you ride on it.  

2. Only Drink Vodka that Comes from a Bottle with a Label
Any 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.

Hmmm…Only drink vodka that comes from a bottle with a label. So…Basically any bottle of vodka you’re likely to come in contact with. This author writes as though these bottles of vodka are just randomly placed all over Russia like items in a video game. Be sure only to take the labeled ones or you’ll lose hit points! I know the comparison isn’t great, but this “advice” sounds like telling someone who’s going to Mexico to only ask directions from people who aren’t young males fully covered in gang tattoos and holding firearms. If I haven’t made this clear by now, coming into contact with bootleg vodka, or at least the dangerous kind, is something that takes effort. 

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.

Again, it is not at all difficult to not drink bootleg vodka in Russia. Second, “Eastern European” hospitality is bullshit, at least in Russia. Yes, people will drink vodka at social occasions. Nobody will force you to drink it. No, everyone does not “drink a lot” and I’ve been at parties where some people didn’t drink at all, even though there was vodka on the table.  

5. If You Want to Drink in Russia, Buy the Vodka Yourself
Legitimate 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.

I’m including this in here not because it’s any more or less stupid than the previous items, but just to make a point that the author clearly missed. You don’t have to drink vodka in Russia. I can’t remember the last time I was even offered vodka, but it could be as much as two years ago or more.  Believe it or not, Russia actually has a host of other alcoholic beverages, such as red and white wine, beer, cognac, gin, tequila, whiskey, mead, and canned Hitler.  

6. Learn How to Identify Bootleg Vodka in Russia
Russian 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!

Honestly who has been known to drink it by mistake? It takes effort just to find samogon, much less “bootleg vodka.” 

Well that was fun but now I’ve got to get to work on my new travel advice article, which will be entitled “How not to get kidnapped by Al Qaeda terrorists on Taksim square in Istanbul.”  




9 thoughts on “Useless travel advice

  1. Pat

    I’m glad you though it fit the bill as much as I did. (You asked, I delivered) Truly, you’d have to work to get more stupid. That is but one shinning example on a site that is full of them. (She got paid to write that shit!) Warning: only look at her other pages when you’re feeling relaxed, lest you find yourself arguing aloud with your computer screen… still you want inane and grossly inaccurate, she’s got you covered.

  2. Big Bill Haywood Post author

    Yeah I had a look around and I know what you mean. She’s probably a free-lance writer who got paid to write a series of articles on a number of different things. Telling people not to flash money around in public or watch out for pickpockets tends to work for any country.

    1. Pat

      This is sad, but I happen to know that the above is not the case. She is paid a set amount plus extra for page views and the building of a “community” on the site. Her undergrad is in Russian and she might even qualify for category number one “people who should theoretically know better but don’t”. Travel journalism is her specialty area and she’s getting a master’s in it. [In case you’re wondering, no I’m not stalking her. We went to college together and she worked hard to get that job. ]

  3. jonathan

    Ukraine is Ukraine and Russia is Russia, but to be fair, when I first traveled Ukraine (year 2000) samagonka was actually quite hard NOT to come across! Often when I found myself with a group of exuberant young people in random towns such as Xmelnitsky or Melitopol, one of them would inevitably make the booze run to dedushka’s house to poach a bottle of two of his finest brew.

    Good job I hadn’t read this article beforehand, else that would have put a dampener on my insouciant piss ups!

    I would also like to say that I heard some stories (when I was in Crimea) that cast heavy doubt on the authenticity of some of the labelled vodka sold in shops. Supermarket mangers earning an extra buck an’ all that…

    1. Big Bill Haywood Post author

      I’m sure that in more provincial regions of Russia you might experience the same thing. But I think most people who would be reading that are either going to Moscow or St. Petersburg.

      Also the article makes it seem like drinking vodka is some solemn local custom- unless it’s a special occasion or a house party it really isn’t. I haven’t had a sip of vodka in maybe several years.


Leave a Reply to Big Bill Haywood Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s