In rural Russia, don’t drink alcohol lightly, as it is likely brewed with chicken manure, leftover food, or some other household waste put in a washing machine.
Samara from the village of Podlesnaya Tavla, 330 miles southeast of Moscow, says not everyone can afford to drink vodka, but everyone can afford to drink Samogon.
“Samogon” is “self-made brew”. Usually, Samara will pour overnight red tea, spoiled rice from a neighbor’s house, three ounces of yeast, twenty pounds of sugar, and ten gallons of water into a washing machine drum for fermentation and distillation.
Customers describe her alcohol as “Gandalf’s milk”.
“No one has ever tasted Gandalf’s milk, but we believe that’s what Samogon tastes like.”
Samogon is very popular among low-income groups, and since 1991, it has been continuously challenging the vodka market to the extent that the government has to enact laws to restrict it.
“The police found me and told me that I can make Samogon, but I cannot sell it,” said farmer Sergei frankly, whose recipe includes antifreeze and apple jam, with a very strong taste.
The feeling of swallowing it is like being shot by the KGB. You close your eyes with a bang and open them again at the sunrise of the next day.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Fedoseyev of the Russian Health Department believes that drinking Samogon could kill you, but the locals don’t care.
“Every year, many people are poisoned by drinking Samogon, and those who are poisoned claim that the symptoms come from drinking too little Samogon.”
Fedoseyev said that some brewers add tobacco, chicken manure, or even shower gel to make the most potent Samogon.
In 1999, 156,000 people died from alcohol-related diseases in Russia, and in order to reduce national alcohol consumption, the government raised the price of vodka, which directly led to the rise of Samogon.
The original Samogon brewers imitated the Soviet-era recipe, which involved putting sugar, yeast, milk, and water into a washing machine and rolling it for two hours before distilling. However, as industry competition became more intense, brewers began adding more intense elements while also abandoning the requirement for specific ingredients.
Ingredients can range from leftover bread and expired soda to sweet beetroot from Siberia and dark roasted coffee beans. Anything that can be found can be put into the washing machine, along with dirty laundry, to make the most authentic Samogon.
The price of vodka is usually three times higher than that of Samogon. Many rural alcoholics consider vodka too expensive and only gentlemen and wealthy people participate in those drinking sessions. They will talk about the situation in the Bosphorus Strait, as well as denounce DNS pollution and the devaluation of the ruble.
But this content is not practical and down-to-earth, far from chatting about the cost-effectiveness of agricultural machinery, postpartum care for hens, and how to tame a bear.
Compared to the noble vodka, samogon is more like a person who doesn’t wipe their butt after taking a dump, you know they’re dirty but you don’t feel pressured.
Hoffman’s favorite thing to do was to sit in a room with the villagers, drink samogon, and brag. His samogon was made by his wife and was well known in the village.
“My wife has a secret recipe, which is to add some of our own apples, but the apples must not be washed, to let the natural yeast on the skin do its work.”
In Russia, there are around three million alcoholics, with the majority being men. According to a Reuters survey, alcoholism is one of the significant factors contributing to the declining population in Russia and the substantial gender gap in mortality rates.
“To combat alcoholism, the government has set a minimum price limit for vodka, but in reality, this will not have any effect,” explained Vatim, director of the Alcohol Market Research Center. “In rural areas, farmers drink medicine for treating heart disease just because they believe it contains alcohol.”
“Addiction is a psychological problem, not just an economic one.”
The Moscow Times reported that three billion liters of substances not intended for human consumption are consumed in Russia every year, including perfumes, cleaning solutions, and aftershave.
Many shops illegally sell banned samogon made from these liquids.
Faced with cold statistics, the Samogon from the village of Podlesnaya Tavla ignited. “If you are sober but your feet are unsteady, you will know how good it is,” said Samo.
Samo admitted that only high-quality Samogon can be ignited, and that real cases of poisoning have brought her more customers.
“I will filter it repeatedly with charcoal until it is as clear as spring water.”
In recent years, the Russian government has intentionally or unintentionally revived Samogon, and Kosogorov Samogon is the first liquor maker to obtain a license for production. In bars and trendy gathering places, a 0.5-liter bottle of Kosogorov is sold for $40.
“It’s a well-branded alcohol, but it’s only suitable for wealthy people who chase trends.”
Packaging the most basic needs as some kind of inspirational consumer product and selling them at high prices has always been a common practice in the fashion industry.
In the suburbs of the central city of Kirov, Grenadi and his father are farm workers who help the farm owner harvest wheat. The farm owner sometimes pays them with samogon and sugar beets.
“Samogon is the most important thing for us,” Grenadi said. “My father also makes samogon, right in the yard, and with onions, pickles, and belts, it tastes really great.”
“We have to consume large amounts of alcohol to survive the long Russian winter, but I don’t have enough money to buy vodka,” said Polikapov, the local village doctor who used to work in St. Petersburg delivering pets, he has a broad perspective and likes to quote famous sayings. “No matter how great your achievements are, the life you lead is where your talents lie.”