August 01, 1997

A Taste of Honey

If you were to name vodka as the oldest Russian beverage, you would be wrong. Although the words ‘Russian’ and ‘vodka’ are frequently uttered in the same breath, vodka did not in fact appear in Russia until the thirteenth century. Before that time, over the course of many centuries, the Slavs and their descendents, the Rus, quenched their thirst with drinks made from honey. 

Honey brews can be nonalcoholic or extremely potent alcoholic beverages, hot or cold, but all are distinguished by their excellent taste and smell. And then there is this: a potent, alcoholic myedovukha tends to make people happy when drunk. The feasts of princes and nobles were unthinkable without honey. At such events, the myedovukha flowed freely. 

It’s no accident that most Russian fairy tales end with the saying: “And I was there, I drank honey and beer, down my moustache it dripped, never got to my lips.” Needless to say, this image of plenty signified a happy ending — the Russian equivalent of living “happily ever after.” Another expression, medovyi mesyats (honeymoon), also originates from the honey-drink tradition. A special kind of myedovukha   — which was very weak, as newlyweds were not supposed to partake of strong alcohol  — was prepared for the happy couple to drink both at the wedding feast and 30 days afterward.

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