What You Didn't Know About Russia's Vodka Museum In St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg, Russia, is the home of the  "Museum of Russian National Drink" — vodka. Yep, an entire museum dedicated to the invention, ingredients, packaging, history, and traditions of the proper way to consume the colorless spirit that has become the ubiquitous liquor of choice for American ladies who are watching their weight. 

Owned by the Stroganoff restaurant group and adjacent to one of its stores, guests can take a guided tour or just explore the small museum on their own. According to Atlas Obscura, visitors can check out the various creative ways Russians came up with to contain their national booze over the centuries — lovely vessels and funky toppers. Of course, on display are myriad shot glasses from which to sip thine own liquor or share with a friend. Because how else are you going to get warm on a cold Russian morning? 

While Russians didn't actually invent vodka — that credit goes to the Polish way back in the eighth century, per Sip Awards — they certainly embraced it with the kind of intensity that makes everybody think they invented it. 

However, according to Firebird Tours, a tour of St. Petersburg's vodka museum will show that at least twice in Russia's history, the nation's leaders weren't feeling vodka and its effects on society and made efforts to curtail citizens' efforts to over-consume the spirit. 

A visit to the vodka museum ends with vodka and food!

According to a Russian Vodka Museum tour guide, the Russians came by vodka through Italian visitors that brought aqua vitae, a wine spirit whose name meant "water of life" to the country in the 14th century, per Firebird Tours. The Russians tinkered with that until they created their own version using a twist on the Slovak word for water, voda. According to the Irish Times, "vodka" is the diminutive version meaning, "a little water."

The tour guide told Firebird Tours that 18th century ruler Peter the Great didn't like people getting too drunk on vodka. In an effort to teach people how to hold their drink when it was deemed they over-imbibed, the rule was they had to wear a 7-kilogram — roughly 15-pound — metal around their neck for a week. Hangovers don't even last that long!

Another thing you'll learn from St. Petersburg's Russian Vodka Museum guide is that Mikhail Gorbachev, who led the country from 1985 to 1991, preferred tea to vodka and slapped a bunch of regulations on vodka, making it harder to get while inadvertently inspiring some good old DIY vodka distillation.

Since the good people at the Russian Vodka Museum realize all this vodka talking makes a person thirsty, all visits end with a vodka tasting. The vodka sampling also includes zakuski, or "little bites" of food like appetizers, which are the traditional Russian pairing for slightly chilled vodka shots, making our sugar and a lemon wedge pairings feel pretty lackluster.