Water of life. Little water. Little stream. Zhizennia voda. The names under which Russian vodka masquerades are many and varied, as one might expect with the libation at the heart of the Slavic cultural universe--and now Kremlin political marketing.
For those of you who have spent significant time around a bottle of vodka, you may have experienced the spiritual connections and epistemological musings that it inspires. Much of Russian literature can be attributed to this innocently colored swill made from wheat chaff and potatoes. It's certainly advisable to limber up with a little Absolut or Grey Goose before sitting down with Gogol's Dead Souls.
Jumping on Russia's makeover as the new(ish) lion in the east, vodka producers have taken a cue from literature and are leveraging the marketing possibilities of vodka. Two brands have taken the lead adopting the cults of personality swirling around Vladimir Putin and Dimitri Medvedev. The latter's patronymic graces a bottle produced by TPG Kristall, while Putinaka outranks Medvedeff as Russia's second most favored vodka--a not insignificant distinction in the $11 billion Russian vodka market.
As if Russian's strongmen really needed more ego waxing. Putin has long been the darling of various feats of courage including Judo matches and tiger tranquilizing. He is still regarded as the most powerful man in Russia despite his departure from the presidency last May. Medvedev is not far behind him for political showmanship and even said, from a remote Siberian town, that Putin was on something of a watchlist these days—"the crisis is the best moment to get rid of ineffective managers, including state officials.”
If anything, the new politicking in Russian's favorite drink, shows the strong psychological pull vodka has on the masses. Alcoholism rates are still among the highest in the world--with 2.5 million dedicated alcholics--and there's even an artisanal moonshine boom underway in the hinterlands to offset the recession's dent on alcohol budgets. Russians concerned about their drinking may want to direct themselves to today's Wall Street Journal where Melinda Beck reports 14 drinks a week is still within the bounds of normalcy for healthy men.
As always, big thinkers and big drinkers are urged to weigh in on alcohol marketing, Russian politics, and home distilling.