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Russian Soft Drinks
May 6, 2012 7:25 PM   Subscribe

"Hi. Russia may well be associated with hard liquor like Водка, but in this video I will be talking about our traditional soft drinks and non-alcoholic beverages." Part 1 [mostly juices] and Part 2 [fizzy drinks].

A few of the drinks mentioned, with tasting notes:
  • Kvass - a strong sweet/sour beverage, with a definite flavor of rye bread.
  • Tarkhun - very pronounced herbal flavor, delicately tart. Unmistakable tarragon flavor (close to anise/licorice but "greener").
  • Baikal - tastes like a forest. Really. Strong evergreen and pine sap notes.
  • Buratino [link goes to origin of the name] - golden bubblegum soda. [Bonus NSFW Buratino Weirdness]
posted by Deathalicious (32 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that fermented rye bread is not actually a flavor that my culture seeks out.

Don't get me wrong, I come from a people who survived hard winters by eating rotten things. I'm just used to our particular rotten things.
posted by poe at 7:35 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


WHERE IS THE LIMONAT?????
posted by k8t at 7:41 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tarhun is great, BTW.
posted by k8t at 7:42 PM on May 6, 2012


Here's a webpage full of beautiful lemonade (another fizzy drink, nothing like American lemonade) labels: http://www.sadcom.com/labels/index.htm
posted by k8t at 7:44 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Philadelphia MeFites can get these soft drinks and more at Bell's Market in northeast Philly. And yeah, Tarkhun is awesome. The speaker may have mentioned limonat, k8t; the listed drinks are the ones I've tried myself.

Not mentioned in the video is my favorite kind of drink; not sure what it's called but basically it's jam mixed with hot water, like a tea.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:54 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks for this post! I love Kvass, expecially when I can get the real fermented thing instead of one made from extract. I'll be on the lookout for Baikal and Tarkhun. Can anyone recommend an online shop that sell Russian sodas for the US market?
posted by PueExMachina at 7:55 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I liked Tarkhun. Kvass isn't to my taste.
posted by demiurge at 7:58 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kvass (why two letters s? in Russian it's just квас) is in the family of things called small beer in English. Rather than "fermented rye bread," which does sound faintly revolting, think of a malty, beer-like drink that's fizzy, cold, and slightly sweet.

Дюшес is basically pear flavor in carbonated water. Our video host mispronounces pear as peer.

I was puzzled by the apparent omission of ситро, which is carbonated and citrus-flavored. I wonder if it's still as commonplace as it used to be, or if it's been supplanted by Western brands.

The link that k8t provides confirms my memories — as early as the 1980s, Pepsi (in glass bottles) was common and popular.

The videos don't go into much detail, but mineral spring water is a whole category of beverages unto itself. Russians ascribe general "revitalizing" and "tonic" properties to it, it tastes like a mouthful of small change, the bottles are labeled with the name of the site (e.g., Narzan, Yessentuki, Borjomi) and the particular source, etc.
posted by Nomyte at 8:24 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you are in Ontario, All Stars Bakery in Toronto makes good, authentic kvas. Better than the imported soda-like stuff. It isn't pasteurized, so if you let it sit for a while it stops being that soft a drink.
posted by parudox at 8:47 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I actually know how to make kvas. I like it. It is a good thing to give to sick people, and to people with hangovers. It is a lot better home made.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:12 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bonus kvas tip: you can use it as the base for a cold soup (called okroshka)!

One that isn't mentioned is common drink people make at home, which is called кисель (kisel'). It's a tart, berry-based sweet drink that is thickened with starch (generally potato starch, I think). You can drink it hot or cold, and some people add milk to it.
posted by parudox at 9:23 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The jam thing is Compote.
posted by k8t at 9:29 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Russia may well be associated with hard liquor like Водка

Man, I've been drunk many times, but never so drunk that I spelled it that way. Crazy drunken Russians.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:30 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh god, I fucking love kvas; it's best when served on a hot day by a street vendor with a huge vat-looking thing (keg I guess?) from a barely-washed glass mug. Definitely one of the things I miss from Russia. I mean yeah you can get it from stores in the US but it's not really the same thing at all. My dad used to make Kvas and it was great, except that he put in a bit too much raisin and fermentation took over... A bit stronger than intended.

Aside from that I also miss fresh birch juice; best when taken from a freshly-snapped branch in a far east mountain forest.
posted by Bonky Moon at 9:42 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


After this can I nominate "weird-ass Guatemalan hot beverages" as the next foodie trend?

Because I really miss the mysterious hot banana drink. And the equally mysterious hot chunky pineapple drink. And the one version of atol de elote where you get whole raw corn kernels floating in it. And why should you Russophiles with your tarragon soda and your unusual decisions about what to ferment have all the fun?
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:44 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Aside from that I also miss fresh birch juice; best when taken from a freshly-snapped branch in a far east mountain forest.

This sounds amazing even though I have no idea at all what it might taste like other than a passing acquaintance with surely adulterated birch beers.
posted by kenko at 9:45 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another type of kvas is malinova, it's a specialty of mine. At 3 days, it won't get you drunk.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:50 PM on May 6, 2012


I was only about 6 or 7, but my family visited my dad's hometown of Oblbuchie and it's still something I'll never forget. Obviously a poor town (dad's got tons of stories about having to scavenge for berries for food as a child), I just remember the good parts. Forests where campfires were prohibited because they'd light the whole place up (or so I was told), steep hills where we went to pick zemlenika and I'd look over to see the whole town below with the train tracks running through. And going through the forest and snapping birch branches to get drips of the juice. I'm almost 30 now and I'd be lying if I said that I remembered exactly what it tasted like, but I do remember it being really good. I got birch juice recently-ish from a local "european" store and it's fine I guess, but it really doesn't compare to what I have in my head.
posted by Bonky Moon at 10:00 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Bonus kvas tip: you can use it as the base for a cold soup (called okroshka)!

One that isn't mentioned is common drink people make at home, which is called кисель (kisel'). It's a tart, berry-based sweet drink that is thickened with starch (generally potato starch, I think). You can drink it hot or cold, and some people add milk to it.
posted by parudox at 9:23 PM on May 6


I was never a huge fan of okroshka, but everyone else in my family was. Kisel though, that shit's amazing. It's just so thick and sticky (I have no idea if others make it differently; I just have my mom and grandma as a reference.)

Gaah, this is really making me miss my childhood :(
I will definitely need to call my mom up and get a recipe for kisel; my brother can keep the okroshka recipe; bleh.
posted by Bonky Moon at 10:15 PM on May 6, 2012


Kompot isn't the tea thing (at least in my family), it's pretty much the same thing that we mean by compote in the US. Putting jam in tea is just one of the many things we do with tea in Russian culture.

And, yeah- birch juice. Wow. I was just scheming on whether there's any way at all to get it in the US. There's a concentrate and a canned version that comes around the Eastern European stores sometimes, but the one I've tried was just heavy in sugar and didn't taste very subtle like the real thing.
posted by girl Mark at 10:15 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kisel' is a hard one to translate to Americans. I think they mostly find it gross. It's sort of like a berry-flavored dessert halfway between a smoothie and a fruit jello to me.
posted by girl Mark at 10:16 PM on May 6, 2012


I drank kvas every day when I was in Moscow in 1989 (SOVIET Moscow omg). So good.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:58 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to register with the "kvas sucks" team.

If someone offers you kvas, I would stay well away.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:26 AM on May 7, 2012


The names and flavors of these beverages sound like they were invented for an alternate reality novel. Like something you might see in the real world, but slightly off.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:38 AM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't watch the video at work but wanted to second the importance of the life-giving properties ascribed to these beverages. Also, dairy drinks like kefir.
posted by Dragonness at 8:27 AM on May 7, 2012


Very enjoyable! I've had kvas in Brighton Beach—the waiter was reluctant to take my order ("You are not Russian, you will not like"), but I did in fact enjoy it. Now I want to try tarkhun. (Question for the Russian-speakers here: is there a difference between тархун and эстрагон [estragon], which is the word all my dictionaries give for 'tarragon'?)

This guy has a video on "Russian gestures and body language," which is also enjoyable (I liked the last bit where he shows how Russians imitate the peoples of the Mediterranean and the Caucasus) but pretty limited; if anyone is interested in the topic, I recommend Barbara Monahan's A Dictionary of Russian Gesture, which amusingly illustrates all the common ones (the one you see on the cover is the "prison" one). Nabokov fans will remember that Pnin is "a veritable encyclopedia of Russian shrugs and shakes"; his colleague Laurence Clements, who teaches Philosophy of Gesture, makes "a film of what Timofey considered to be the essentials of Russian 'carpalistics', with Pnin in a polo shirt, a Gioconda smile on his lips, demonstrating the movements underlying such Russian verbs - used in reference to hands - as mahnut', vsplesnut', razvesti: the one-hand downward loose shake of weary relinquishment; the two-hand dramatic splash of amazed distress; and the 'disjunctive' motion - hands traveling apart to signify helpless passivity." Махнуть рукой, that "downward loose shake of weary relinquishment," is perhaps the quintessential Russian gesture.
posted by languagehat at 10:18 AM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


My favorite Russian (Soviet?) gesture is flicking one's neck to imply drunkenness.
posted by k8t at 12:00 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Дюшес is basically pear flavor in carbonated water.

Oh man. I went to Leningrad in 1988 while I was living in Sweden, and our chaperones basically told us if we drank or brushed our teeth with or looked directly at the tap water, flames would shoot out our asses and we would die. Bottled still water was barely a thing in the modern world at that time, and wasn't at all a thing in the USSR.

So we bought mineral water and club soda (cheaper than mineral water) at the hard-currency shop, and eschewed the mealtime carafes of tap water - or something, it often had a giant chunk of visibly gritty ice in it - for mineral water or the bottles of what must have been Дюшес on the tables. It was November and windy and we were constantly thirsty, and that stuff tasted so good.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:15 PM on May 7, 2012


(k8t: The neck-flick is found in Ukraine and Poland, too, but in Poland it's insulting.)

The soda-pop kvasses are nothing special, but real brewed kvas on a hot day is about a bajillion times more refreshing than water.

For us here abroad from the Motherland, Квас Тарас (Kvas Taras) is sometimes available (they have international connections through the Carlsberg group), and it's a lot tastier than the монастирский stuff that you see everywhere, which is pretty much just root beer gone wrong.

Oh, and they blogged a bunch of kvas recipes that I've bookmarked.
posted by eritain at 12:37 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Question for the Russian-speakers here: is there a difference between тархун and эстрагон [estragon], which is the word all my dictionaries give for 'tarragon'?

Well, they're clearly the same word and refer to the same parts of the same species of plant (so, none of that cilantro/coriander business). I've always heard тархун, эстрагон strikes me as more foreign. If one refers to the weedy "native" variety and the other to the fancy "French" variety, I've never picked up on that subtlety.
posted by Nomyte at 12:49 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that fermented rye bread is not actually a flavor that my culture seeks out.

Hey, speak for yourself. Some of us happen to like the taste of LSD.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:42 PM on May 7, 2012


I thought that tarkhun was the Armenian word for tarragon? Maybe it originated in the Caucasus?
...

Yup, Wikipedia says it is Georgian and the word is used regionally.

Tarkhun (Georgian: ტარხუნა) is a Georgian[1] carbonated soft drink that is flavoured with tarragon and traditionally dyed green. It was invented in 1887 by a Georgian pharmacist Mitrofan Lagidze, who started adding carbonated water to his tarragon syrup mixes.[2] It went into mass production in the Soviet Union in 1981 and gained exceptional popularity. The drink's name comes from a popular name for tarragon in Georgian & Persian, as well as numerous other languages like Arabic, Turkish, and several languages spoken in the Caucasus and Balkans.
posted by k8t at 3:54 PM on May 8, 2012


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