Russian Vodka – an infusion of fruit and madness

Sometimes – actually, quite often – I find myself lying in bed in the middle of the night wondering when I’ll go to sleep. It’s not insomnia. It’s this thing called ‘pottering about’. This is a very broad title, as ‘pottering about’ can include a multiple of things: from washing the dishes, reading, hanging up clothes, to cooking; or bottling up plum-infused black market medicinal alcohol that you’ve just tasted a spoon of but are afraid to drink any more for fear of losing your eyesight.

It’s at that point that that thought stays with you and you must google the effects of methanol on humans.

The result is a panicked rummaging through the food cabinet to find that little box of baking soda which apparently helps to counter the effects of methanol on the system. Anyway, I am not blind, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. I am also now digressing.

You might ask ‘How did you get your hands on black market medicinal alcohol, JJ?’

In one of my previous posts some months ago, I recounted a conversation I had with a friend while walking the forest outside Moscow:

“‘So what are we going to do with the plums, put them in vodka?’

‘We can get pure alcohol for that. It’s way cheaper and better than vodka. Give them two months or so and they’ll make a really nice drink.’

‘How much is a bottle of pure alcohol?’

‘It starts at 800 Rubles for 5 litres.’

‘So why don’t homeless people drink it?’

‘I guess that’s still kind of pricey for them.’

‘Are you sure we won’t go blind from it?’

‘No, trust me, it’s not that kind of alcohol. This is cleaner than the vodka you get in the shops. Also, we add water to it, obviously.'” (

The plums we’d picked on our walk were not fit for eating. However, they were perfectly good for infusing pure alcohol diluted with water and we put them into the freezer until we had that very necessary ingredient.

One evening, a week or two after that conversation and following my friend’s directions, I found myself in a distant Moscow suburb on the east side of the city about 12 kilometres from the centre, close to the main ring road (MKAD). It being a district I’d never visited, I typed the address into google maps on my phone and duly followed it for about 15 minutes. The building in which the seller apparently lived was one of many identical high rises, so as I stood in the courtyard I dialled the number and waited. A woman answered.


‘Er, are you the person selling the alcohol?’

‘Yeah, which one do you want? I have…’ and she rapidly listed off a bunch of names I don’t remember.

‘I’m looking for the Luks 5 litre. It’s 1100 Rubles, right?’

‘Aha,’ she said. ‘Just one?’

‘Yes, just one.’

‘Where are you standing?’ she asked.

‘Near entry two to building 6,’ I said.

‘What are you wearing?’

‘A black coat with a hood,’ I said.

‘Everyone wears those,’ she replied. ‘What else are you wearing?’

‘I have a big empty shopping bag in my hand,’ I said, helpfully.

‘I asked you what else you’re wearing, not what you’re holding,’ she replied.

‘Jeans. Everyone wears those, too.’

‘Okay, someone will be down shortly,’ she said, and hung up.

So I waited, staring expectantly at the two entrances nearest to me.

After several minutes tall thin man in jeans, a hat and a leather jacket appeared from round the corner of the building, carrying a large plastic bag in his hand. He walked with slightly hunched shoulders.

‘Luks?’ he said.

‘Yep, that’s me,’ I replied.

‘Eleven hundred,’ he said.

I took the bag, he counted the money, and we both parted.

So now, two months later, that very same alcohol has been infused with wild plums but I probably won’t drink it. It’ll just sit on the shelf looking pretty with its dark purple colour.

I texted pictures of the bottles to my friends in our whatsapp group. One of the replies was as follows:

‘Bathed rats are grumpy rats. (he has three pet rats)

*picture of wet rats*

They even sulk when you try to dry them. But give them cold pasta… and they’ll be your friend in no time. No rats were harmed in the creation of this sideshow.

Also Jonjo, you are getting far too used to Russian culture. One of the key differences we have noticed is that you are not stopping to ask “is what I am doing retarded?” any more.’


infused vodka

You know you want to


Russia – Nothing to Declare

A friend of mine, asked recently when the next anecdote about Russia would be. I answered with something along the lines of “I’ll see when I get back.” As it happens, I only had to reach the airport for one.
Strictly job related, I brought back a load of whiskey and beer samples to offer distributors here in Moscow. I’ve brought excess alcohol in check-in baggage many times without any hitches. This time, however, was different. It was almost as though the customs official knew already.
As I jostled through the milling crowds towards the exit from the baggage collection area, a hand shot out in front of me, and a burly man in uniform took me aside.
‘Put your suitcase through the x-ray, please,’ he said.
I did as I was told.
‘Ooooh, I see there are a lot of bottles in your suitcase!’ he said. ‘Passport, please.’
I duly handed him my passport.
‘Irish? I hear Irish whiskey is very good, is that true?’
‘Yep, most of it is,’ I said.
‘Open your suitcase, please.’
I opened my suitcase to reveal row upon row of neatly wrapped bottles in bubblewrap. His face fell at this, as most of these were beers, but upon closer inspection, he spotted the burly bottles of whiskey underneath.
‘Do you have laws in Ireland?’ he asked me.
‘Em, I suppose we do?’
‘Do you have restrictions on the amount of alcohol you can bring in at any one time?’ he continued.
‘Not that I know of.’ I thought that in this instance it would be better to play dumb.
‘Well the permitted amount of tax free alcohol you’re allowed to bring into Russia at any one time is 3 litres, did you know that? You’re way over the limit.’
‘Oh, I didn’t know that at all,’ I said, shaking my head in what I hoped was disbelief.
‘Come with me, I’m going to show you our laws, so that you know for future reference.’
I followed him to a big list on the wall at the far side of the corridor, where he pointed and explained.
‘See? 3 litres! Do you realise that we could confiscate everything?’ he said.
‘They’re not mine, they’re gifts,’ I said.
‘You must have a lot of friends,’ he said.
‘They’re for Russian friends, yes’ I said, grinning.
‘What are you doing here? Are you a student?’ he asked.
I nodded. This was something of a lie, as my visa does not state that I am a student, but I thought that under the circumstances it was easier to go along with his questions rather than offer unexpected answers.
‘Okay,’ he said, ‘well look, if you offer a token in exchange for our good will (translates into something along the lines of “Nasha dobrota/наша доброта) we’ll pretend like we saw nothing. Just make sure this doesn’t happen again!’
I pulled a 750ml bottle of black imperial stout out of the bag and placed it absentmindedly on the table.
‘I’ve always wanted to try Irish whiskey,’ he said, pointing at one of the short, stocky (and much more expensive) bottles at the bottom of the suitcase, which happened to be a 7 year old bottle of Glendalough.
‘Oh, Irish whiskey is very good,’ I said. I reorganised the contents of the bag, placing the whiskey bottle on the table.
‘I’m sure it is,’ he said, grinning. ‘Enjoy your stay.’
It occurred to me that it could have been a lot worse. If that had been in the likes of Germany, it would have all been confiscated in adherence to the law.

Readin’ in De Streets o Dublin

Walking around Dublin, one hears funny things. For instance, reading and walking at the same time is an interesting task. In fact, it is the feat of superior multi-tasking: *read and comprehend, avoid dog poop, avoid walking out into heavy traffic, avoid people, stop yourself listening to the conversations of passersby* The list goes on, really.
The last task is important i.e. stop listening to other people’s conversations – this is often difficult to do in Dublin, as inner city Dubs are wont to having conversations with each other standing at opposite sides of the road over the din of heavy traffic.
It’s extra funny when what you overhear is spectacularly contrasted to what you are reading in the given moment, such as the following:
“Toc’s fellow lieutenants – and indeed Anastor himself – were well enough fed. They welcomed the endless corpses the march had claimed and continued to claim. Their boiling cauldrons were over full. The rewards of power.
“The metaphor made real – I can see my old cynical teachers nodding at that. Here, among the Tenescowri, there is no obfuscating the brutal truth. Our rulers devour us. They always have. How could I ever have believed otherwise? I was a soldier, once. I was the violent assertion of someone else’s will.”
He had changed, not a difficult truth to recognise in himself. His soul torn by the horrors he saw all around him, the sheer amorality born of hunger and fanaticism, he had been reshaped, twisted almost beyond recognition into something new. The eradication of faith – faith in anything, especially the essential goodness of his kind – had left him cold, hardened and feral.
Yet he would not eat human flesh. “Better to devour myself from within, to take my own muscles away, layer by layer, and digest all that I was. This is the last remaining task before me, and it has begun…”
When suddenly you overhear the following:
Woman 1: “How’s Holly?!” she shouted.
Woman 2: “Ah, she’s grand. Goin’ inta de Junior Cert year, yeh know? Feckin’ books are goin’ ta clean me ou’. How’s yer little wan?” shouted no.2.
Woman 1: “She’s no’ little anymore, sure she’s neerlee twel’ve!” shouted no.1.
Woman 2: “Yeh, bu’ dey’re all little t’mee, ye know? Is she doin’ her confirmation this year?” shouts no.2.
Woman 1: “Jayses, yeah, I’m fuckin’ dreadin’ i’. Dat’s gonna cost an arm an’ a leg an’ Chrismus is jus’ gone!” shouted no.1.
Woman 2: “Ah Jesus, don’t talk to me, sure we’d be better robbin’ a bank, wha?!” shouted no.2.
Dublin streets are sometimes the best places to read something dark and grim.