g The word 'vodka' is the diminutive of voda, ^ the Russian word for water, so it means some-S thing like 'a wee drop'. Russians sometimes g drink vodka in moderation, but more often it's tipped down in swift shots, often followed p by a pickle. Russky Standard and Stolichnaya are two good brands of vodka that are commonly available. It's very rare to get bad vodka in a restaurant, so do not fear if you don't recognise the brand name, as there are many. In shops it's a different story, though: always buy vodka from a respectable-looking store (avoid street kiosks if possible) and always check for an unbroken seal.

Many visitors to Russia are surprised to learn that pi vo (beer) is actually Russia's most popular alcoholic drink. The market leader is Baltika, a Scandinavian joint-venture with Russian management, based in St Petersburg. It makes no less than 12 excellent brews. No 3 and 7 are the most popular standard lagers, but there is also a wheat beer (No 8), dark beers (No 4 and 6) and a 'strong beer' (No 9), which at 8% proof is extremely popular. Tinkoff (pi 80) is a national chain of micro-breweries that has begun bottling its potent brews for retail sale. Other leading Russian beers are Bochkarev, Nevskoye, Stepan Razin and Tri Medvedi.

Russians drink Sovietskoe shampanskoe (sparkling wine) to toast special occasions and to sip during intermission at the theatre. It tends to be sickeningly sweet: look for the label that says sukhoe (dry).

Kvas is a mildly alcoholic fermented rye-bread water. Cool and refreshing, it is a popular summer drink that tastes something like ginger beer. In the olden days it was dispensed on the street from big wheeled tanks. Patrons would bring their own bottles or plastic bags and fill up. The kvas truck is a rare sight these days, but this cool tasty treat is still available from Russian restaurants.

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