January 01, 2003

A Honey of a Winter Drink



U

ntil the turn of the twentieth century, a common winter sight in Russian cities and towns was the sbitenshchik, a vendor of a spiced honey drink that acts as the perfect antidote to the cold. This drink, sbiten, is one of Russia’s most traditional beverages, known since the fourteenth century.

Two different methods are used to prepare sbiten. The first, as in the recipe below, calls simply for heating honey with water and spices, then perhaps fortifying it with wine, brandy, or vodka. A more complex version is made by pounding both herbs and spices in a mortar (hence the name sbiten, from the verb sbit — to beat or to pound). Honey or molasses is added to the powder, and the mixture is left to ferment slightly before stirring in boiling water to produce a lightly alcoholic drink. 


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