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    Post updated, 6/10/14. See below! As we saw previously (see My Most Read Posts), my post Maps of the American Nations is the single most popular post so far here on my blog. Americans all over are supremely interested in both their origins and the reasons for the cultural quirks of the different American regions....
  • […] and, of course, jayman has been all over american nations issues for the past couple of years (see here and here, for […]

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  • […] differently on various social indicators. A great many of these indicators were featured in my post More Maps of the American Nations (as well as in the earlier post Maps of the American Nations). The pattern we see above (and many […]

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  • […] Civil War New England, no. But assortative migration has been powerful (see previous link) and continues on to this […]

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  • This year will mark yet another milestone in Russia's steady post-1990s demographic recovery, with the population minus Crimea hitting 144.0 million as of January 1, 2015 [XLS link], relative to 143.7 million in the same period last year. (Excluding Crimea is, needless to say, done not out of political considerations, but to retain the appropriate...
  • “For the second consecutive year running in its post-Soviet history, Russia’s births will substantially supercede deaths.”

    First of all, it’s “supersede”, not “supercede”. Second, births exceed deaths, they don’t “supercede”.

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  • […] [“Is Russia’s Demographic Recovery at Risk of Reversal?” – The Unz Review – unz.com – Anatoly Karlin – January 30, 2015] […]

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  • If I can be Estonian and yous can be Estonian we can all be Estonian.

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  • @LondonBob
    Vodka was seen as the drink of the old and destitute when I was in Moscow. Whiskey was the drink of choice for the 20-30 year old rich Muscovites.

    Really Russia has so much cheap and plentiful land that the population should really increase. Too many get sucked into Moscow though with its high cost of living.

    Vodka was seen as the drink of the old and destitute when I was in Moscow. Whiskey was the drink of choice for the 20-30 year old rich Muscovites.

    My experience was that vodka was favored by older people, but also military and FSB people. “Intelligentsia” preferred cognac. Younger professionals would drink beer or wine, but also cognac and whiskey for heavier drinking. I didn’t really mix with poorer people, but someone is still drinking a lot of vodka there.

    15 years ago it was simpler: generally, men drank vodka, women drank wine or champagne.

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  • Estonia has developed a good digital strategy. Russian digital strategy? Not so good.

    Now everybody is losing their shirt.

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  • @silviosilver
    Thank you.

    I'd like to address the argument you made there in this thread, if I may.


    A bizarre alliance of neocons, Western chauvinists, crazy Russian nationalists, Islamist fanatics, and plain Russophobes have been peddling the imminent prospect of a Muslim-majority Russian Army and a Russabia ruled from the Caucasus Emirates for almost a decade.
     
    Speaking as a proud, defiant Russophobe, that has never been my contention. In fact, I've argued against demographic alarmists on this issue - though without hard data I had to rely on probabilistic arguments.

    Still, if we move beyond the straw man of "imminent Muslim majority" and consider political, cultural and - at the risk of being declared a "weather channel" [wink] operative - racial influence, I don't think the data justifies your easy confidence.


    The percentage of births in Russia’s traditionally Muslim” republics in the North Caucasus (Agygea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Chechnya) and the Volga (Bashkortostan, Tatarstan) is a mere 13%-14% of the total – and shows no signs of increasing at a sustained and rapid rate.
     
    As a matter of fact, your own data demonstrates the very opposite: that the proportion is increasing at a sustained and "rapid" rate (it's certainly rapid if applied over the long-term).

    Your graph has the Muslim republic birth proportion growing from 12% to 13% in only five years, before taking a brief tumble and then resuming its upward trend. What reason is there to believe this trend will not continue?

    As you yourself note, Muslim TFRs are already fairly low, so the rise in the proportion of births to Muslims cannot be attributed to Magommed and Ramazan having eight children apiece.

    As I see it, the statistic of central importance is the TFR differential. Before my hard drive died I had built a clunky and amateurish but, I believe, effective demography simulator for excel (I could accurately model 20th century population histories with it, so even if my assumptions were "curve fit" I'm sure I was on the right track).

    From memory, a 0.5 TFR differential could produce a 0.1-0.3% difference in annual population growth rate. Over a hundred years or two - ie long periods of time, but not so long that they are of no concern to us - such small, seemingly insignificant differences can dramatically alter the demographic balance.

    Now, with TFRs under replacement the growth rate of course becomes negative, so it's not really a "growth" rate at all as the average person would understand that term. Indeed, with both populations declining one might be inclined to think "problem solved." Yet the fact is the growth rate differential is as capable of dramatically altering the demographic balance in a declining population as in a growing one.

    Imagine a country ethnically divided equally into Group A and Group B. (And let's assume that mixed offspring resolve ethnic belonging equally - 50% join the A's, 50% join the B's. This is far from an ideal assumption, particularly when the divisions are racial, but for simplicity's sake let's run with it.)

    If Group A's population declines at an annual rate of 0.6% and Group B's population declines at an annual rate of 0.3%, then over one hundred years Group A will have dropped to 42.6% of the country's population and Group B will have risen to 57.4% of the country's population. In two hundred years, Group A 35.3%, Group B 64.7%. In my book, this is dramatic.

    The obvious retort is that no one can possibly predict the distant demographic future so precisely. But precision is not the point. The point is that demographic change is best understood as a long-term phenomenon.

    If demographic trends abruptly jumped all over the place, such that say in the next five years Group A had a TFR of 3.5 and grew at 1.5% per annum while group B had a TFR of 1.7 and declined at 0.5% per annum, but in the subsequent five-year period the positions were reversed then one could justifiably disregard the trends in place, dismissing them as meaningless.

    But this is not how demographic trends behave. Demographic trends hold over long periods and only change fairly slowly therefore it is very important to pay attention to the demographic trend one's group finds itself in at any one time, because the implications of that trend continuing can be momentous.

    Given the above, then, I am forced to regard Russia's demographic future as hanging in the balance. Awareness is the first step in solving a problem and indications are that awareness exists in the highest circles in Russia. True awareness, however, is compromised when experts paint a misleadingly positive picture that leads to a false sense of confidence.

    Great analysis. Many people don’t quite understand demography because it’s so slow, but its trajectories change slowly, too, so it’s a bit like watching an action movie scene bullet time: yes, you can see the bullets moving, but there’s no way you can catch them with your hands. (Unless, of course, you are in the movie Matrix. But you aren’t.)

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  • Thank you.

    I’d like to address the argument you made there in this thread, if I may.

    A bizarre alliance of neocons, Western chauvinists, crazy Russian nationalists, Islamist fanatics, and plain Russophobes have been peddling the imminent prospect of a Muslim-majority Russian Army and a Russabia ruled from the Caucasus Emirates for almost a decade.

    Speaking as a proud, defiant Russophobe, that has never been my contention. In fact, I’ve argued against demographic alarmists on this issue – though without hard data I had to rely on probabilistic arguments.

    Still, if we move beyond the straw man of “imminent Muslim majority” and consider political, cultural and – at the risk of being declared a “weather channel” [wink] operative – racial influence, I don’t think the data justifies your easy confidence.

    The percentage of births in Russia’s traditionally Muslim” republics in the North Caucasus (Agygea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Chechnya) and the Volga (Bashkortostan, Tatarstan) is a mere 13%-14% of the total – and shows no signs of increasing at a sustained and rapid rate.

    As a matter of fact, your own data demonstrates the very opposite: that the proportion is increasing at a sustained and “rapid” rate (it’s certainly rapid if applied over the long-term).

    Your graph has the Muslim republic birth proportion growing from 12% to 13% in only five years, before taking a brief tumble and then resuming its upward trend. What reason is there to believe this trend will not continue?

    As you yourself note, Muslim TFRs are already fairly low, so the rise in the proportion of births to Muslims cannot be attributed to Magommed and Ramazan having eight children apiece.

    As I see it, the statistic of central importance is the TFR differential. Before my hard drive died I had built a clunky and amateurish but, I believe, effective demography simulator for excel (I could accurately model 20th century population histories with it, so even if my assumptions were “curve fit” I’m sure I was on the right track).

    From memory, a 0.5 TFR differential could produce a 0.1-0.3% difference in annual population growth rate. Over a hundred years or two – ie long periods of time, but not so long that they are of no concern to us – such small, seemingly insignificant differences can dramatically alter the demographic balance.

    Now, with TFRs under replacement the growth rate of course becomes negative, so it’s not really a “growth” rate at all as the average person would understand that term. Indeed, with both populations declining one might be inclined to think “problem solved.” Yet the fact is the growth rate differential is as capable of dramatically altering the demographic balance in a declining population as in a growing one.

    Imagine a country ethnically divided equally into Group A and Group B. (And let’s assume that mixed offspring resolve ethnic belonging equally – 50% join the A’s, 50% join the B’s. This is far from an ideal assumption, particularly when the divisions are racial, but for simplicity’s sake let’s run with it.)

    If Group A’s population declines at an annual rate of 0.6% and Group B’s population declines at an annual rate of 0.3%, then over one hundred years Group A will have dropped to 42.6% of the country’s population and Group B will have risen to 57.4% of the country’s population. In two hundred years, Group A 35.3%, Group B 64.7%. In my book, this is dramatic.

    The obvious retort is that no one can possibly predict the distant demographic future so precisely. But precision is not the point. The point is that demographic change is best understood as a long-term phenomenon.

    If demographic trends abruptly jumped all over the place, such that say in the next five years Group A had a TFR of 3.5 and grew at 1.5% per annum while group B had a TFR of 1.7 and declined at 0.5% per annum, but in the subsequent five-year period the positions were reversed then one could justifiably disregard the trends in place, dismissing them as meaningless.

    But this is not how demographic trends behave. Demographic trends hold over long periods and only change fairly slowly therefore it is very important to pay attention to the demographic trend one’s group finds itself in at any one time, because the implications of that trend continuing can be momentous.

    Given the above, then, I am forced to regard Russia’s demographic future as hanging in the balance. Awareness is the first step in solving a problem and indications are that awareness exists in the highest circles in Russia. True awareness, however, is compromised when experts paint a misleadingly positive picture that leads to a false sense of confidence.

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    • Replies: @reiner Tor
    Great analysis. Many people don't quite understand demography because it's so slow, but its trajectories change slowly, too, so it's a bit like watching an action movie scene bullet time: yes, you can see the bullets moving, but there's no way you can catch them with your hands. (Unless, of course, you are in the movie Matrix. But you aren't.)
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  • Vodka was seen as the drink of the old and destitute when I was in Moscow. Whiskey was the drink of choice for the 20-30 year old rich Muscovites.

    Really Russia has so much cheap and plentiful land that the population should really increase. Too many get sucked into Moscow though with its high cost of living.

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    • Replies: @AP

    Vodka was seen as the drink of the old and destitute when I was in Moscow. Whiskey was the drink of choice for the 20-30 year old rich Muscovites.
     
    My experience was that vodka was favored by older people, but also military and FSB people. "Intelligentsia" preferred cognac. Younger professionals would drink beer or wine, but also cognac and whiskey for heavier drinking. I didn't really mix with poorer people, but someone is still drinking a lot of vodka there.

    15 years ago it was simpler: generally, men drank vodka, women drank wine or champagne.
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  • @silviosilver
    I'd be far more interested in seeing how the data and trends break down by ethnicity/religion.
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  • I’d be far more interested in seeing how the data and trends break down by ethnicity/religion.

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  • @Glossy
    ...you can pretty much spot the departure of Krushchev and the end of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaigns just by staring at mortality statistics."

    Was the price of vodka lowered after Khruschev was deposed? Why?

    I don’t know, that’s something that needs to be addressed to Doug, should he comment here.

    But a quick search suggests that no, this was not the case:

    С 1960 по 1972 годы пол-литровая бутылка водки «Московская особая» стоила 2 рубля 87 копеек. Это последние годы правления Никиты Хрущева и первые Леонида Брежнева. Дальше Леонид Ильич дважды поднимал ценник на «беленькую». В первый раз – в мае 1972 года, когда пол-литра стали стоить 3 рубля 62 копейки, во второй раз – в 80-м году, когда ценник поднялся до 4 рублей 12 копеек.

    Also this.

    So yeah, the rise of the Soviet/Russian alcohol epidemic from the mid-1960s was not correlated to any particular price shift.

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  • …you can pretty much spot the departure of Krushchev and the end of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaigns just by staring at mortality statistics.”

    Was the price of vodka lowered after Khruschev was deposed? Why?

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    I don't know, that's something that needs to be addressed to Doug, should he comment here.

    But a quick search suggests that no, this was not the case:

    С 1960 по 1972 годы пол-литровая бутылка водки «Московская особая» стоила 2 рубля 87 копеек. Это последние годы правления Никиты Хрущева и первые Леонида Брежнева. Дальше Леонид Ильич дважды поднимал ценник на «беленькую». В первый раз - в мае 1972 года, когда пол-литра стали стоить 3 рубля 62 копейки, во второй раз - в 80-м году, когда ценник поднялся до 4 рублей 12 копеек.
     
    Also this.

    So yeah, the rise of the Soviet/Russian alcohol epidemic from the mid-1960s was not correlated to any particular price shift.
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  • Post updated, 6/10/14. See below! As we saw previously (see My Most Read Posts), my post Maps of the American Nations is the single most popular post so far here on my blog. Americans all over are supremely interested in both their origins and the reasons for the cultural quirks of the different American regions....
  • And yet another great climate zone map which you can clearly see most of the American Nations! Not sure why I am so fascinated about this but I am!

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  • […] More Maps of the American Nations […]

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  • @Patrick C. Wentz
    Good map which shows NE movement across North America.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2011/01/the-empires-of-american-english/

    @Patrick:

    Good find, but those were featured in the antecedent post to this one, Maps of the American Nations.

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  • Good map which shows NE movement across North America.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2011/01/the-empires-of-american-english/

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    • Replies: @JayMan
    @Patrick:

    Good find, but those were featured in the antecedent post to this one, Maps of the American Nations.

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  • […] of illustrating this theory is by using maps of ethnic correlates, maps I’ve come to think of as JayMaps, for obvious reasons. In this case I looked at vegetarianism and English ancestry in America. For […]

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  • […] you should definitely check out! i don’t even know where they all are, but you can start with one of the most recent ones, if you haven’t seen it already. […]

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  • […] More Maps of the American Nations […]

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  • […] More Maps of the American Nations – Bigger and badder than the original, with more maps solidifying the distinction between the different American nations, with genetic evidence of these differences to boot. Also some discussion of the history of each, and the founding of certain areas. I also include personality data showing that the American nations don’t just exist on paper or in the voting booth. I use these to talk about the importance of self-sorting, founder effects, and Cochran’s & Harpending’s “boiling off” model to explain some of the differences we see. I also touch on immigration and the canard that immigrants “assimilate,” showing that that is pretty much a myth. A must see if you have not. […]

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  • Outstanding. Another post to bookmark for sure, what a rich collection of maps you’ve put together here. I cannot imagine the time this must have taken. This is critical data that is missing from almost all analysis on ‘American’ cultural questions. I have to say that reading ‘Albion’s Seed’ this winter really opened my eyes to so many things. Your series on the American nations is, as far as I can tell, unique in the blogosphere. Chapeau bas, I look forward to reading more.

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  • @JayMan
    @bbbatez:

    Thank you!

    Your welcome and thank you.

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  • @bbbatez
    Reblogged this on bbbatez and commented:
    Maps of American nations. Well done and very interesting look at the political and cultural differences geographically.

    Thank you!

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    Your welcome and thank you.
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  • Reblogged this on bbbatez and commented:
    Maps of American nations. Well done and very interesting look at the political and cultural differences geographically.

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    • Replies: @JayMan
    @bbbatez:

    Thank you!

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  • […] my series on the American nations, particularly my earlier post, More Maps of the American Nations, I noted the great regional variation in guns and crime. Let us look at some of these again, […]

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  • […] I have recently updated two key posts, my post More Behavioral Genetic Facts and More Maps of the American Nations. […]

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  • fnn says:

    I was just looking inside Putnam’s book at Amazon. Was struck by how he quickly moves from brief description of old urban centers made up mostly of white ethnic (Irish, Ukrainians, Jews,etc.) neighborhoods to the the displacement of those same ethnic groups to “homogeneous” white suburbs. Funny how you can lose your ethnicity by moving a few miles. Putnam may be a sub rosa white nationalist.

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  • Woodard tried to say recently that the Democratic trend in tidewater Virginia was due to the “noblesse oblige” of the Virginia Cavaliers. Incredible. I wonder how many more facts he has stretched to accommodate his bullshitted theory.

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  • […] More Maps of the American Nations – from jayman. […]

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  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Jayman, on the map of counties where Obama got less than 20% of the white vote, four of the five Illinois counties are counties with large state prisons. I wonder if Edison Research got confused when looking at the counties demographics. For example, Logan County gave 33% of its vote to Obama. Its largest city is 93% non-Hispanic white & other than the state prisons, the remainder of the county is surely far whiter than the 93% non-Hispanic white county seat. Yet because of the two state prisons, the Census Bureau lists Logan County as 87.7% non-Hispanic white & 11.4% institutionalized.

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  • […] (See my preceding post, More Maps of the American Nations.) […]

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  • My apologies for being off topic, but I found a document online that may interest you. I came across it while searching for “behavioral genetics phrenology,” because after first coming across (a couple of months ago) b.g. being called phrenology I have seen it several more times. So, here is the RationalWiki (as in, I suppose, anyone who does not agree is irrational) entry on Biological Determinism. It is a sort of compendium of the sorts of things that your and related blogs seem to be struggling against. It may be useful as specimen collection, or just entertaining. In the past I have considered writing a parody document along this line, but I have been summarily preempted. I am sending a similar/identical comment to several other blogs, this is too good not to share.

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Biological_determinism

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  • Wow, one of the longest Jayman’s posts since ages. Very interesting read, in addition.

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  • The link to 3rd gen Asian-American IQ is broken, the correct URL is http://pseudoerasmus.com/2014/05/21/economic-growth-human-biodiversity/comment-page-1/#comment-19 .

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  • “Today these Finnish-Americans appear to be generally more Left-leaning, much like their cousins across the Atlantic.”

    Actually, much of the Finnish-American population descends from leftists who left Finland because of anti-left persecution. Tons of socialists moved to the United States (and other countries of the Americas) because they allowed greater freedom for socialist movements than either the Tsarist empire or newly independent Finland which up to the 1930s was extremely hostile to anything even remotely left-wing. (Long story short, independence was followed by a left-wing coup, a Civil War which the left lost and tens of thousands of Reds died in the White revenge terror. After the Civil War the victors were extremely hostile to the left and large numbers of Red Finns moved to the US to “build socialism” there when even mentioning socialism in Finland could get you beaten up.)

    There was also mass migration of Finns from the US to the Soviet Union between the world wars:

    https://www.google.fi/search?q=karelia+fever

    It ended badly and that also ended much of the right/left hostility in Finland, the left stopped being pro-Soviet after all those massacres right over the border. Finland has a really bizarre history after WWII which has left us with a really unusual society where we’re much more right-wing than, say, Swedes but we’ve gone even further with the Swedish social democratic model because of Soviet pressures. It’s unraveling now and the left has been slowly collapsing since the USSR fell.

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  • ckp says:

    The North Korea regime collapses tomorrow and there’s miraculously no civil war or humanitarian crisis. The two countries begin a long and painful process of reunification, like East/West Germany on crack. ~70 years of despotic Communism and famine have left their mark on North Korean culture and even their bodies (Norkies are several inches shorter than their Southern cousins), but what about genes? Are 3-4 generations of zero introgression and (possibly) insane selection pressures on conformity enough to make Northerners notably genetically distinct from Southerners? How might this impact re-integration?

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  • Jay, in your (fabulous) analyses of the “American Nations” you overlook an interesting dimension of US history and genome: the Forest Finns of the 17th century in the mid-Atlantic. They came to be known as the Delaware Finns, and one reason you probably haven’t heard of them is that they were lumped in with their imperial absorbers in Sweden and recorded as Swedes, not Finns, in colonial records in New Sweden and later under Dutch and English rule.

    But in local records of the time, they were very much recognized as Finns, and as extremely different from the more agricultural/urbanized Swedes in New Sweden, and later Dutch and English. They manifested the close-in breeding of pre-postmodern Finns, and were recorded by the Dutch, British, French, and others as incredibly robust, fecund, self-sufficient, feisty, wicked smart, slightly spooky/dangerous, outstanding toolmakers, and in cahoots with the Lenni Lenape (local “Indians”).

    It was on this pre-existing loom that the English wove their colonial presence.

    Their (our) origins: between 1638 and 1656 a small but coherent and ultimately impactful migration of metsasuomalaiset proceeded from upper middle Sweden (mostly Varmland and Dalarna counties), of these indigenous Finno-Ugric people from today’s Eastern Finland (Savo and Karjala provinces) who had previously been removed from their forestlands where they practiced huuhta (swidden) agriculture. Those lands were wanted by Swedish royalty for manufacture of charcoal for use by the burgeoning steel and arms industries. Also around that time, Finns were fighting as mercenary cavalrymen in the Thirty Years’ War, and Sweden was beginning to persecute and outlaw as witches menfolk who practiced the older animist/pagan/song-and-drumming-based religion.

    These several hundreds of metsas located to the Delaware Valley, became extremely successful farmers and pioneers, some intermarried with Swedes and a few Dutch and English (and others), and many radiated out from there, particularly after “The Quaker Invasion” of the 1680s. Most of them stayed close in in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland, and “close in” is relative given that these Finns engaged in the “long hunt” tradition that could take them far away on boat-and-portage hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering expeditions.

    A significant movement of them proceeded into the Appalachians and then farther west still. In PA/NJ they were among the American Revolutionaries (including ancestors of mine), and in fact Finns had been agitating for the colonies’ independence from Europe back into the 1600s.

    You might enjoy the late Terry Jordan’s and Matti Kaups’s book on the topic, The American Backwoods Frontier. Jordan (a geographer at UT-Austin) long argued that there is a coherent, westward flowing complex of material culture evidence for Forest Finns being the only eastern seaboard colonial people from the Old World who were genetically and culturally pre-adapted to enter and open a largely forested new continent.

    http://books.google.com/books/about/The_American_backwoods_frontier.html?id=3x8MAAAAYAAJ

    If you drop me a line, I can share more and connect you with fairly extensive resources. It might be an interesting line of inquiry for you. It’s not certain how many Americans can trace ancestry to these people, but it’s surely in the millions…and those of us who were still in the valley in the 1980s had quite coherent lineages. I come from an unbroken paternal line going back ten generations, so I also inherited a bunch of stories that didn’t make much sense till I learned in the past decade just how coherent this migration and its people were. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

    Tikka

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  • In the first part of my series comparing Russia, Britain and the US, I am going to look at their levels of social freedoms. While political scientists go on about to what extent a country has "democracy" or "rule of law", this ignores that these arcane concepts have practically zero relevance to the everyday lives...
  • Even though the purported goal of this site is to avoid following Western propaganda, the author falls right into that trap.

    In US, a nonworking housewife’s household chores are counted towards the GDP, in other words, the amount added to the GDP is the wages she would otherwise had to pay if she hired somebody to do it, instead of doing it herself. In Europe, in particular, in UK, the dwelling that one owns causes the amount of rent that could be charged if that dwelling was rented out, to be added to the GDP.

    Additionally, these are countries with innumerous taxes, insurances and other small expenses which make life more bothersome and expensive than in Russia. And who can tell if the bigger houses in US are better than an ability to walk in a beautiful green city or a forest? To most Russians, US is one concrete ugly jungle-jail house with no freedom, excessive heat and inability to walk. Having lived in both countries for many years, I can tell that Russia is hands down a better place to live than US, and most likely, UK.

    Incidentally, I met in US a number of English families and individuals who have moved there and they do not miss their country at all, very much unlike the Russians who literally despise the like in US.
    Culturally, ecologically, educationally and esthetically, Russia, certainly is much more advanced. Also, if one considers the degeneracy of Americans, their grotesque obesity, unattractiveness of women, oppressive political system, their essentially fascist police state, their destroyed nature and patriotic, low quality education, which is far behind that of Russia by light years, the choice between the two will be obvious. In a pure monetary terms, Russia is still ahead if you make adjustments in the ridiculous US and UK GDP calculation system which is meant to deceive and obfuscate, rather than to reveal the truth.

    When I return to Russia for a few months every May, I feel a whiff of fresh air, it is a delightul break from the ugly America.

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  • Sergey Zhuravlev is a Russian economist who runs a wonky but eminently readable and very useful, interesting blog and writes for Expert (author profile), which I may add is an excellent publication. You have met him previously on my blog as the inventor of a clever - if, in my opinion, flawed - argument that...
  • [...] negative in 1992 – reversed in 2011, as was most knowledgeably discussed by Anatoly Karlin at Sublime Oblivion. You could excuse Mr. Eberstadt for not knowing that would happen, perhaps, since Seeing The Future [...]

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  • That crash you heard was Kimmie falling off her chair at Pajamas Media; it will be hard to let such a treasured trope go. Next on the list for Russia to bump up is life expectancy, and then she’ll have basically nothing left except the annual CPI Index release, which will be awaited with the anticipation once known only to children waiting for the Sears Christmas Catalogue to come out.

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  • [...] Last year our country’s population increased, for the first time in 20 years. Although positive growth in aggregate was only enabled by immigration from the Near Abroad, existing trends in rising fertility and falling mortality were maintained.Via http://www.sublimeoblivion.com [...]

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  • Russia has a long and proud drinking culture; according to the chronicle of its founding, the main reason it chose Christianity over Islam was the latter’s prohibition of booze. Vodka has been distilled there since at least the 12th century. As of the time of writing, it is the world’s largest spirits market by volume...
  • @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Jen,

    As you of course know Australia is one of the greatest red wine regions in the world particularly Shiraz wines from Barossa. Two of the greatest red wines anywhere are Grange and Heschke Hill of Grace as I can vouch for myself. Even the French acknowledge them as comparable to their greatest red wines. Prices in Britain for these wines are off the scale. They are far better than any Californian reds I have tried including very fancied Californian wines like Opus One.

    As for dessert wines I have heard that Australia makes some heavy sweet Muscat wines, which are well regarded by those with a taste for that sort of thing but I have never come across them.

    Alex,

    The Barossa Valley region is famous for its vineyards which were established by German immigrants in the 19th century. The area is not far from Adelaide and can be visited in a day trip although you might need a couple of days to visit the wineries (I haven’t been there myself) and some food-producing places there. There are bakeries, butchers and cheese-makers in the region that produce for export as well as local consumption.

    There are actually several wine-making regions in Australia and the better known ones include the Hunter valley region which is 200 km north of Sydney, the Margaret River region south of Perth and an area around Mildura in northwestern Victoria state on the Murray river border between Victoria and New South Wales near South Australia. At my last place of work, there was a guy there whose family owned a vineyard in Coolangatta which is 200 km south of Sydney. Coolangatta as a wine-producing region is not so well known as the Barossa and Hunter valley areas.

    The city of Coolangatta in Queensland which is known locally and overseas as a holiday resort town was actually named after Coolangatta in New South Wales.

    The “ice wine”, or icebox wine as it’s usually called, made in Australia comes from Mudgee in central New South Wales. Nowhere in Australia do you get climatic conditions ideal for proper ice wine – the climate is too temperate even in the ski areas near Mount Kosciuszko in far south NSW – and as for New Zealand, there is an area in Otago province in the South Island that possibly meets the climatic requirements but the wine-growing industry there is very new and is still in an experimental stage.

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Jen,

    As you of course know Australia is one of the greatest red wine regions in the world particularly Shiraz wines from Barossa. Two of the greatest red wines anywhere are Grange and Heschke Hill of Grace as I can vouch for myself. Even the French acknowledge them as comparable to their greatest red wines. Prices in Britain for these wines are off the scale. They are far better than any Californian reds I have tried including very fancied Californian wines like Opus One.

    As for dessert wines I have heard that Australia makes some heavy sweet Muscat wines, which are well regarded by those with a taste for that sort of thing but I have never come across them.

    Just a quick further point, which is that any attempt to make ice wine using artificial refrigeration is almost certainly destined to produce a wine that is inferior to that made in natural conditions.

    Again ice wine ought to be something that the Russians could also do. After all they have the climate for it.

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  • @Jen
    Alex,

    Thanks very much for the information! Your mention of the film suggests my hunch about the time of picking the grapes is correct. I've since found out that the grapes must be pressed while still frozen so they have to be picked at night or during the very early morning.

    Australian and New Zealand have very small ice wine industries but the grapes are usually frozen after being picked.

    Dear Jen,

    As you of course know Australia is one of the greatest red wine regions in the world particularly Shiraz wines from Barossa. Two of the greatest red wines anywhere are Grange and Heschke Hill of Grace as I can vouch for myself. Even the French acknowledge them as comparable to their greatest red wines. Prices in Britain for these wines are off the scale. They are far better than any Californian reds I have tried including very fancied Californian wines like Opus One.

    As for dessert wines I have heard that Australia makes some heavy sweet Muscat wines, which are well regarded by those with a taste for that sort of thing but I have never come across them.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Just a quick further point, which is that any attempt to make ice wine using artificial refrigeration is almost certainly destined to produce a wine that is inferior to that made in natural conditions.

    Again ice wine ought to be something that the Russians could also do. After all they have the climate for it.

    , @Jen
    Alex,

    The Barossa Valley region is famous for its vineyards which were established by German immigrants in the 19th century. The area is not far from Adelaide and can be visited in a day trip although you might need a couple of days to visit the wineries (I haven't been there myself) and some food-producing places there. There are bakeries, butchers and cheese-makers in the region that produce for export as well as local consumption.

    There are actually several wine-making regions in Australia and the better known ones include the Hunter valley region which is 200 km north of Sydney, the Margaret River region south of Perth and an area around Mildura in northwestern Victoria state on the Murray river border between Victoria and New South Wales near South Australia. At my last place of work, there was a guy there whose family owned a vineyard in Coolangatta which is 200 km south of Sydney. Coolangatta as a wine-producing region is not so well known as the Barossa and Hunter valley areas.

    The city of Coolangatta in Queensland which is known locally and overseas as a holiday resort town was actually named after Coolangatta in New South Wales.

    The "ice wine", or icebox wine as it's usually called, made in Australia comes from Mudgee in central New South Wales. Nowhere in Australia do you get climatic conditions ideal for proper ice wine - the climate is too temperate even in the ski areas near Mount Kosciuszko in far south NSW - and as for New Zealand, there is an area in Otago province in the South Island that possibly meets the climatic requirements but the wine-growing industry there is very new and is still in an experimental stage.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Jen,

    I am afraid I cannot tell you much about the process for making ice wine. I did once see a film that showed the grapes being picked in the dark with torches, which supports your account. However I am not a wine maker and I cannot say more. You are right in saying though that the only versions that are taken seriously are those that are made in Germany (where the style was invented) and in Canada. It is said to be very difficult to make.

    @AP, Canadian ice wine has made a big impact here in Britain, where it is highly regarded amongst those who appreciate good wine and who can afford it. It is now accepted as one of the world's great dessert wines. All the top wine merchants (Justerini & Brooks, Berry Brothers & Rudd etc) now stock it as do the top food stores eg. Fortnum & Masons and Harrods. It is also a favourite for after dinner drinking by top academics at Oxford and Cambridge Colleges. I cannot say what the situation is outside Britain.

    Incidentally when it comes to the great sweet Reisling wines the trend now is to prefer from Germany wines made with botrytised grapes from such places as the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, the Rheingau and the Pfalz and to prefer the ice wine that comes from Canada.

    Alex,

    Thanks very much for the information! Your mention of the film suggests my hunch about the time of picking the grapes is correct. I’ve since found out that the grapes must be pressed while still frozen so they have to be picked at night or during the very early morning.

    Australian and New Zealand have very small ice wine industries but the grapes are usually frozen after being picked.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Jen,

    As you of course know Australia is one of the greatest red wine regions in the world particularly Shiraz wines from Barossa. Two of the greatest red wines anywhere are Grange and Heschke Hill of Grace as I can vouch for myself. Even the French acknowledge them as comparable to their greatest red wines. Prices in Britain for these wines are off the scale. They are far better than any Californian reds I have tried including very fancied Californian wines like Opus One.

    As for dessert wines I have heard that Australia makes some heavy sweet Muscat wines, which are well regarded by those with a taste for that sort of thing but I have never come across them.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @AP
    My father-in-law regularly gets some incredible Armenian cognacs (he's an excellent physician, and some of his patients have very good taste and means).

    I have never tried Armenian cognac though one of my Russian friends is a fan. It is the only brandy outside France that can be legally called a “cognac”. Supposedly this is because it won a competition in Paris in 1900 at which the French cognac producers were so impressed that they agreed it should be allowed to market itself as a “cognac”. There might be a political context to this, in that 1900 marked the high point of the French Russian friendship and alliance, which led to the two countries fighting alongside each other against Germany in the First World War.

    There is a story, which may be true, that Winston Churchill became a great fan of Armenian cognac after trying some at the Yalta Conference.

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  • @Jen
    Dear Alex,

    Not being a drinker (my body doesn't tolerate alcohol well at all - must be due to my Asian genetic heritage!), I can't contribute much to this post but I have heard grapes grown for ice wine must be picked in a critical 2 or 3-hour period early in the morning, some time starting at 2 am, before temperatures change and defrost the grapes, changing the taste. This might explain why ice wine is made only in Canada (I think in southern Ontario near Toronto) and Germany and why it is so expensive. Is this true, do you know? I remember reading a Sydney Morning Herald newspaper article many years ago about ice wine but forgot a lot of the details.

    Dear Jen,

    I am afraid I cannot tell you much about the process for making ice wine. I did once see a film that showed the grapes being picked in the dark with torches, which supports your account. However I am not a wine maker and I cannot say more. You are right in saying though that the only versions that are taken seriously are those that are made in Germany (where the style was invented) and in Canada. It is said to be very difficult to make.

    , Canadian ice wine has made a big impact here in Britain, where it is highly regarded amongst those who appreciate good wine and who can afford it. It is now accepted as one of the world’s great dessert wines. All the top wine merchants (Justerini & Brooks, Berry Brothers & Rudd etc) now stock it as do the top food stores eg. Fortnum & Masons and Harrods. It is also a favourite for after dinner drinking by top academics at Oxford and Cambridge Colleges. I cannot say what the situation is outside Britain.

    Incidentally when it comes to the great sweet Reisling wines the trend now is to prefer from Germany wines made with botrytised grapes from such places as the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, the Rheingau and the Pfalz and to prefer the ice wine that comes from Canada.

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    • Replies: @Jen
    Alex,

    Thanks very much for the information! Your mention of the film suggests my hunch about the time of picking the grapes is correct. I've since found out that the grapes must be pressed while still frozen so they have to be picked at night or during the very early morning.

    Australian and New Zealand have very small ice wine industries but the grapes are usually frozen after being picked.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Alexander Mercouris
    I didn't know that Canadian whisky is whisky.

    By the way one of the greatest drinks I have ever had and which I strongly recommend to anyone with a taste for that sort of thing is Canadian ice wine. This is made from late harvest grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine in the winter frost. It is a style invented in Germany but the Canadians have brought to it a pitch of perfection. The intensity of these wines is staggering. They are amongst the great sweet dessert wines of the world. Those made with the Riesling grape are best.

    Dear Alex,

    Not being a drinker (my body doesn’t tolerate alcohol well at all – must be due to my Asian genetic heritage!), I can’t contribute much to this post but I have heard grapes grown for ice wine must be picked in a critical 2 or 3-hour period early in the morning, some time starting at 2 am, before temperatures change and defrost the grapes, changing the taste. This might explain why ice wine is made only in Canada (I think in southern Ontario near Toronto) and Germany and why it is so expensive. Is this true, do you know? I remember reading a Sydney Morning Herald newspaper article many years ago about ice wine but forgot a lot of the details.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Jen,

    I am afraid I cannot tell you much about the process for making ice wine. I did once see a film that showed the grapes being picked in the dark with torches, which supports your account. However I am not a wine maker and I cannot say more. You are right in saying though that the only versions that are taken seriously are those that are made in Germany (where the style was invented) and in Canada. It is said to be very difficult to make.

    @AP, Canadian ice wine has made a big impact here in Britain, where it is highly regarded amongst those who appreciate good wine and who can afford it. It is now accepted as one of the world's great dessert wines. All the top wine merchants (Justerini & Brooks, Berry Brothers & Rudd etc) now stock it as do the top food stores eg. Fortnum & Masons and Harrods. It is also a favourite for after dinner drinking by top academics at Oxford and Cambridge Colleges. I cannot say what the situation is outside Britain.

    Incidentally when it comes to the great sweet Reisling wines the trend now is to prefer from Germany wines made with botrytised grapes from such places as the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, the Rheingau and the Pfalz and to prefer the ice wine that comes from Canada.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Glossy
    "In the Soviet period, the only spirits available to most citizens were vodka and cognac from the Caucasus"

    There was also Georgian and Moldovan wine, domestic and Czech beer and other stuff. My father's favorite was something called Rigas Balzams.

    "First, rising incomes means Russians can afford to develop more refined tastes."

    People have a long history of getting snobbish about whiskey. Not to the same extent as with wine, but still. I don't drink, but I have a feeling that vodka is suffering from a snobbishness deficit. By the way, I have no idea if any of this snobbishness is justified. All booze tastes horrible to me.

    "...vodka has the weight of tradition behind it and goes much better with the staples of the Russian diet."

    I've read that it's also less harmful to one's health than colored spirits. The stuff that seeps into whiskey from the oak barrels is said to be harmful.

    My father-in-law regularly gets some incredible Armenian cognacs (he’s an excellent physician, and some of his patients have very good taste and means).

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    I have never tried Armenian cognac though one of my Russian friends is a fan. It is the only brandy outside France that can be legally called a "cognac". Supposedly this is because it won a competition in Paris in 1900 at which the French cognac producers were so impressed that they agreed it should be allowed to market itself as a "cognac". There might be a political context to this, in that 1900 marked the high point of the French Russian friendship and alliance, which led to the two countries fighting alongside each other against Germany in the First World War.

    There is a story, which may be true, that Winston Churchill became a great fan of Armenian cognac after trying some at the Yalta Conference.

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    I didn't know that Canadian whisky is whisky.

    By the way one of the greatest drinks I have ever had and which I strongly recommend to anyone with a taste for that sort of thing is Canadian ice wine. This is made from late harvest grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine in the winter frost. It is a style invented in Germany but the Canadians have brought to it a pitch of perfection. The intensity of these wines is staggering. They are amongst the great sweet dessert wines of the world. Those made with the Riesling grape are best.

    Wow – I once lived near the Canadian icewine making region. Nice to see it so appreciated abroad.

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  • @Moscow Exile
    I used to work with several Poles down the pit in the Lancashire coalfields. They all could knock the vodka back in grand style. I remember one of them always used to blame the Russians for his and many of his fellow countrymen's adddiction to vodka, saying that it the Russians who introduced the drink into Poland, where it was used as part payment to Polish serfs in order to make them dependent on it and thereby keep them in servitude. Much later, having emigrated, as it were, to Russia, I learnt that my old Polish drinking pal had got it all wrong and that vodka was introduced into Russia from Poland.

    Someone at our table at a wedding in Poland had lived with a family in France for a few months (I think he was an exchange student or part of some cultural exchange in the very early 90′s, when it was still rare for Poles to be in the West). Every morning his hosts would serve him vodka, which he politely drank. After a few days he remarked to his hosts, what a strange custom they had in France, to drink vodka every morning for breakfast. His hosts then said that they thought that this was what was done in Poland, and they wanted him to feel at home.

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  • @Martin Armstrong
    Yet another small pedantic correction. Most whisky from Scotland is distilled twice but historically whisky from the Scottish Lowlands was triple distilled eg Auchentoschen, Rosebank, Bladnoch. However Bladnoch is now only distilled twice, Rosebank has closed and Auchentoschen continues to be triple distilled.

    Dear Martin,

    Thanks for this. It is a pleasure to be corrected on such a subject.

    PS: I am sorry to hear that Rosebank has closed. I have only tried it once but it seemed a classic malt and one of the best I have tried in the lowland style.

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Yalensis,

    A malt is a whisky made purely from water and barley from a single distillery. Scotland has scores of distilleries. Though there are various additional factors the single most important thing that determines the taste and quality of the whisky is the water the distillery uses.

    Malts are usually aged for several years in barrels or casks where they have contact with the air and acquire complexity. The period can vary but is usually between ten years and thirty though there are some much older malts. Once a whisky is bottled its development stops and a 24 year old malt kept in a bottle will taste the same in twenty years or as it does in two.

    There are as many styles of malts as there are distilleries but broadly there are five generic styles: lowland (the lightest), highland, Speyside, Camperdown and Island.

    A blend is a whisky that is a mixture of different malts blended with neutral tasting grain whisky. They almost never come with an age statement. The vast majority of whiskies that are sold are blends. Typical examples are Johnny Walker, J&B, Famous Grouse etc. By comparison with malts blends are smoother and more refined and easier drinking but lack a malt's weight and complexity and character. Malts are generally thought to be the premium product and are usually much more expensive but there are some very fine blends (like Johnny Walker Black Label) that are also considered premium products.

    Whisky is a difficult drink to get to know and is a taste one has to educate oneself to acquire but it is well worth the effort. Because of its strong character it cannot be knocked down like vodka but like Anatoly says must be sipped. It has traditionally been a man's drink so I am very impressed to learn from Anatoly that Russian women are taking to it because they think it is refined.

    As with a good vodka it is a crime to mix it or use it in cocktails.

    Dear Alexander,
    Greetings from Scotland.
    Re the single greatest influence on the taste of a malt whisky, most distillers would probably choose the cask as having the greatest influence determing possibly 50% of taste, possiby followed by whether the malt is heavily peated or un-peated and then the shape of the stills and the way they are used.
    Regards
    Martin

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    One small and ultra pedantic point.

    A Scottish whisky is "whisky". An Irish or American whisky is "whiskey". Scottish whisky is distilled twice. Irish whiskey is distilled three times, which adds smoothness at the expense of complexity. All Irish whiskeys are blends. Single malts are almost always Scottish.

    Yet another small pedantic correction. Most whisky from Scotland is distilled twice but historically whisky from the Scottish Lowlands was triple distilled eg Auchentoschen, Rosebank, Bladnoch. However Bladnoch is now only distilled twice, Rosebank has closed and Auchentoschen continues to be triple distilled.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Martin,

    Thanks for this. It is a pleasure to be corrected on such a subject.

    PS: I am sorry to hear that Rosebank has closed. I have only tried it once but it seemed a classic malt and one of the best I have tried in the lowland style.

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  • [...] with your Macanudo, move on over and check it out.  You’ll learn all about Whiskey’s infiltration of Russian culture, how Putin has a lot of fans over there and why China is better than India. [...]

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  • @Thorfinnsson
    All I can say is I hope Russian whiskey is better than Russian beer.

    I purchased a 40 of Baltika in a "Western supermarket". It came in a plastic bottle which is never a good sign, but I'm always up for new things.

    I opened it when I got back to my car. I was only able to finish half of it on the way home before chucking it, so awful was the taste. It basically tasted like bitter cough syrup.

    I’ve never seen a Baltika in a plastic bottle.

    Perhaps try out the one’s in bottles. They are numbered 1-9 and each one correlates to a different flavor and gradient.

    I don’t think Baltika should win any prizes, but it’s certainly far from the worst out there; certainly better than the Buds, Millers, etc.

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    I have tried Baltika lager and I thought it was good.

    A very remarkable British beer is Imperial Russian Stout. This is a dark heavy beer made by one or two breweries that was once exported to Russia and which was supposedly favoured by Catherine the Great, thus the name. It is difficult to find but it is certainly one of the best British beers. I gather that one of the brewers that makes it has tried to re establish the Russian connection by brewing it in Tartu in Estonia whence it is exported back to Britain. I wonder whether it is known at all in Russia. It is very strong and benefits from being aged in a cellar like wine.

    I have heard that Baltika also brews a dark beer. Has anyone tried it?

    If you’re referring to number 6 (porter), I think it’s quite good. In fact it’s probably my favorite Baltika at the moment (in the absence of 5, which I can’t find anymore).

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  • @Patrick Armstrong
    A point Dear Comrade (which will be important when/if you get to Heaven. Which you might, or might not. Where they ask these questions. And it matters. Up or down.)
    WHISKEY -- Irish and American
    WHISKY -- Scotch and Canadian.

    I didn’t know that Canadian whisky is whisky.

    By the way one of the greatest drinks I have ever had and which I strongly recommend to anyone with a taste for that sort of thing is Canadian ice wine. This is made from late harvest grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine in the winter frost. It is a style invented in Germany but the Canadians have brought to it a pitch of perfection. The intensity of these wines is staggering. They are amongst the great sweet dessert wines of the world. Those made with the Riesling grape are best.

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    • Replies: @AP
    Wow - I once lived near the Canadian icewine making region. Nice to see it so appreciated abroad.
    , @Jen
    Dear Alex,

    Not being a drinker (my body doesn't tolerate alcohol well at all - must be due to my Asian genetic heritage!), I can't contribute much to this post but I have heard grapes grown for ice wine must be picked in a critical 2 or 3-hour period early in the morning, some time starting at 2 am, before temperatures change and defrost the grapes, changing the taste. This might explain why ice wine is made only in Canada (I think in southern Ontario near Toronto) and Germany and why it is so expensive. Is this true, do you know? I remember reading a Sydney Morning Herald newspaper article many years ago about ice wine but forgot a lot of the details.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • A point Dear Comrade (which will be important when/if you get to Heaven. Which you might, or might not. Where they ask these questions. And it matters. Up or down.)
    WHISKEY — Irish and American
    WHISKY — Scotch and Canadian.

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    I didn't know that Canadian whisky is whisky.

    By the way one of the greatest drinks I have ever had and which I strongly recommend to anyone with a taste for that sort of thing is Canadian ice wine. This is made from late harvest grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine in the winter frost. It is a style invented in Germany but the Canadians have brought to it a pitch of perfection. The intensity of these wines is staggering. They are amongst the great sweet dessert wines of the world. Those made with the Riesling grape are best.

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    AK Edit: You have banned me from commenting on your own blog, Mr. Democratist Man; and for that matter, in true democratist spirit, anyone else who doesn’t share your smoldering Russophobia. I am not a democratist like you and don’t hate free speech, so you are free to comment here IF you do so on-topic, but spamming this site with but off-topic links containing no original commentary whatsoever will not be tolerated.

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  • I have tried Baltika lager and I thought it was good.

    A very remarkable British beer is Imperial Russian Stout. This is a dark heavy beer made by one or two breweries that was once exported to Russia and which was supposedly favoured by Catherine the Great, thus the name. It is difficult to find but it is certainly one of the best British beers. I gather that one of the brewers that makes it has tried to re establish the Russian connection by brewing it in Tartu in Estonia whence it is exported back to Britain. I wonder whether it is known at all in Russia. It is very strong and benefits from being aged in a cellar like wine.

    I have heard that Baltika also brews a dark beer. Has anyone tried it?

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    • Replies: @Scowspi
    If you're referring to number 6 (porter), I think it's quite good. In fact it's probably my favorite Baltika at the moment (in the absence of 5, which I can't find anymore).
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  • The pilsner drunk in Russia is, in my opinion, mostly imported Czech Urquell or European pilsner brewed under licence here. As mentioned above, Baltika does a pilsner. So does EFES, which is a Turkish owned concern. Don’t know what it’s like though. However, I should think that EFES is considered to be “European standard” by most Russians.:

    http://www.7cont.ru/good/4502/

    EFES Stary Melnik (Old Windmill) is their most popular brand of top fermented beers brewed for “Russian taste”:

    http://www.starymelnik.ru/

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  • @Moscow Exile
    I remember the first time I tried Baltika. I was waiting for the night train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, where I was going to celebrate Old New Year 1993 the next day, when I spotted the new label amongst the former Soviet beers and gave it a try. Baltika was then like the nectar of the gods in comparison to that Soviet swill. Unfortunately, its quality declined as the decade progressed and competition increased from imported foreign brews or foreign beers brewed under license in Russia. Baltika's ownership changed as well, which might have contributed to its decline in quality. At first it was a joint Russian, Swedish and British (Scottish & Newcastle Breweries) enterprise. I think Heineken is the majority shareholder now. There are, however, some decent Russian brews. I haven't drunk for 4 years now, but the Russian beeer that I was fond of when I last drank was Yarpivo (Yantarnoe pivo: Amber Beer).

    http://www.yarpivo.ru/

    I’m going to defend Baltika. Their numbers 4 (brown), 5 (golden) and 6 (porter) are definitely recommendable and tasty beers. Unfortunately, 5 is very difficult to find in stores, and restaurants tend to serve 7, which is a boring and undistinguished lager.

    So if anyone from Baltika is reading this: bring back 5, dammit!

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  • Are there any Russian beers comparable to mass market American or European lagers? Especially pilsner beers. You know, stuff like Budweiser or Grolsch (no, European lagers are not better than American).

    I am over good beer these days and just prefer clean pounding beers to get smashed when I’m not sticking to whiskey.

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  • I remember the first time I tried Baltika. I was waiting for the night train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, where I was going to celebrate Old New Year 1993 the next day, when I spotted the new label amongst the former Soviet beers and gave it a try. Baltika was then like the nectar of the gods in comparison to that Soviet swill. Unfortunately, its quality declined as the decade progressed and competition increased from imported foreign brews or foreign beers brewed under license in Russia. Baltika’s ownership changed as well, which might have contributed to its decline in quality. At first it was a joint Russian, Swedish and British (Scottish & Newcastle Breweries) enterprise. I think Heineken is the majority shareholder now. There are, however, some decent Russian brews. I haven’t drunk for 4 years now, but the Russian beeer that I was fond of when I last drank was Yarpivo (Yantarnoe pivo: Amber Beer).

    http://www.yarpivo.ru/

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    • Replies: @Scowspi
    I'm going to defend Baltika. Their numbers 4 (brown), 5 (golden) and 6 (porter) are definitely recommendable and tasty beers. Unfortunately, 5 is very difficult to find in stores, and restaurants tend to serve 7, which is a boring and undistinguished lager.

    So if anyone from Baltika is reading this: bring back 5, dammit!

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  • All I can say is I hope Russian whiskey is better than Russian beer.

    I purchased a 40 of Baltika in a “Western supermarket”. It came in a plastic bottle which is never a good sign, but I’m always up for new things.

    I opened it when I got back to my car. I was only able to finish half of it on the way home before chucking it, so awful was the taste. It basically tasted like bitter cough syrup.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    I've never seen a Baltika in a plastic bottle.

    Perhaps try out the one's in bottles. They are numbered 1-9 and each one correlates to a different flavor and gradient.

    I don't think Baltika should win any prizes, but it's certainly far from the worst out there; certainly better than the Buds, Millers, etc.

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  • That eau de cologne story of mine reminds me of one of the very first Soviet “anekdoty” that I heard:

    A drunkard goes into a Moscow pefumery, staggers up to one of the assistants, and slurs to her “Do you have any eau de cologne?”

    “We have”, she replies, “what kind would you like?”

    “This”, he says, and leaning over the counter, he breathes out forcefully into her face.

    She steps back, and says to him “I’m very sorry, but we don’t have that kind of eau de cologne”.

    “Well, what kind have you got?” he asks.

    “This”, she replies, and leaning over the counter, she breathes out forcefully into his face.

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  • I’ve been on many drinking sessions where medical spirit has been the intoxicant. Towards the end of the USSR and in the early post-Soviet days, the market was also awash with 90 proof alcohol from Germany, which was sold in 2l bottles. It was called “Berliner Bär” (Berlin Bear) if I remember rightly. The natives usually watered it down a little before imbibing.

    The worst thing that I once downed, though, was Russsian eau de cologne. I was dragged into a neighbour’s room as I was returning from my studies to my own in the hostel where I was billeted, and a glass was thrust into my hand. It was my neighbour’s birthday and his tiny abode was already rolling. Thinking it was vodka, I downed the shot Russian style. It was eau de cologne. Bloody awful! On seeing the look of surprise on my face, my jovial host enquired “What’s wrong? Don’t you drink eau de cologne in England?”

    “Not as a rule” I managed to reply, trying desperately to exhibit my British sang-froid.

    I could taste the bloody perfume for a week afterwards!

    That was in Voronezh in 1990. Everything was “defesit” then. And Westerners still wonder why most Russians dislike Gorbachev.

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  • @georgesdelatour
    In Poland in the 1990s there was a Beer-Lovers political party - the PPPP (Polska Partia Przyjaciół Piwa). As Wikipedia notes: "originally, the party's goal was to promote cultural beer-drinking in English-style pubs instead of vodka and thus fight alcoholism".

    Intriguing that the UK could serve as a model for sensible moderation in alcohol consumption...

    The PPPP actually won about 18 seats in the Polish parliament in 1993. This was during the period just after the fall of communism, when Poland had something like 200 political parties.

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  • @Glossy
    "In the Soviet period, the only spirits available to most citizens were vodka and cognac from the Caucasus"

    There was also Georgian and Moldovan wine, domestic and Czech beer and other stuff. My father's favorite was something called Rigas Balzams.

    "First, rising incomes means Russians can afford to develop more refined tastes."

    People have a long history of getting snobbish about whiskey. Not to the same extent as with wine, but still. I don't drink, but I have a feeling that vodka is suffering from a snobbishness deficit. By the way, I have no idea if any of this snobbishness is justified. All booze tastes horrible to me.

    "...vodka has the weight of tradition behind it and goes much better with the staples of the Russian diet."

    I've read that it's also less harmful to one's health than colored spirits. The stuff that seeps into whiskey from the oak barrels is said to be harmful.

    Riga Black Balsam is awesome stuff if you put a few drops of it in coffee. For sure, I wouldn’t take it straight.

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Glossy,

    "I've read that it's also less harmfull to one's health than coloured spirits. The stuff that seeps into whisky from the oak barrels is said to be harmful".

    If you drink whisky like vodka that is true. Vodka is the most refined spirit since it is distilled to remove impurities. That is why it is so much smoother than whisky or indeed any other spirit and so much easier to drink. Since vodka is so refined it is far less likely to make you feel ill or cause you a headache than whisky if you get drunk on it though I have to say that the habit of some Russians I know of drinking beer after their vodka to stay sober strikes me as rather odd.

    Having said this one should not exaggerate. If you drink whisky properly it should cause you no more ill effect than any other alcoholic drink. By the way by far the worst effect on me of any alcoholic drink was caused by a homemade rum (samogon?) somebody once sent me from Barbados.

    PS: Whisky, vodka, gin, brandy (including cognac) and rum are spirits because they are made through the process known as distillation. They are to be distinguished from wine and beer, which are made in a quite different way and which are not spirits. Balzams by the way is a spirit. The snobbishness you refer to by the way exists in Britain as well and at the moment Riga Balzams is a beneficiary as you will discover if you visit any top bar here.

    Strange thing is, I used to also bring London Dry Gin back as presents, and nobody really liked it. I used to tell them that it was “English vodka” flavoured with the juniper berry, that it was as pure as the very best vodka, but they thought it inferior to their nationasl drink. And then, in the mid-90s, there appeared small cans of UK (Greenall’s) “gin and tonic” on the Moscow streets, which soon began to be retailed in 0.5l cans and which were clearly to Russian taste. Then the Moscow brewery Ochakovo began to manufacture a horrendous version of “dzhin tonik”. As I said earlier, tastes change, and there’s certianly the “snob factor” to take into consideration with regards to the marketing of Western products in Russia. But I’ve still not met a Russian that likes to drink gin neat.

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Moscow Exile,

    If the man could reproduce a Johnny Walker Black Label then he was little short of a genius. With talent like that how can Russia fail?

    Well, it wasn’t exactly Johnny Walker Black label that he had replicated, but if you had put it behind a bar in the UK, you would have been able to sell it to binge drinkers without any problem.

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  • @Moscow Exile
    I used to work with several Poles down the pit in the Lancashire coalfields. They all could knock the vodka back in grand style. I remember one of them always used to blame the Russians for his and many of his fellow countrymen's adddiction to vodka, saying that it the Russians who introduced the drink into Poland, where it was used as part payment to Polish serfs in order to make them dependent on it and thereby keep them in servitude. Much later, having emigrated, as it were, to Russia, I learnt that my old Polish drinking pal had got it all wrong and that vodka was introduced into Russia from Poland.

    I used to know a Polish guy called Roman when I lived in the UK.

    He was liberated from a German concentration camp in 1945 and picked up Russian from the Red Army soldiers to a surprisingly high level. Amazingly, he still remembered enough to be able to talk to us in Russian in the late 1990′s, about 50 years since he left Poland to emigrate to Britain. There, without a formal education – as he had spent many of his teenage years imprisoned – he worked as a construction worker until an accident left him disabled. His English wife divorced him soon after and he was left to live alone on his modest pension.

    We were neighbors for a few years. He was a Germanophobe, and unusually for a Pole, also an Anglophobe and Russophile – a natural product of his life experiences, I suppose. He also slipped me £10 notes every so often, most of which my parents forced me to return. ;)

    He drank a lot and smoked a lot, and died from lung cancer in his 70′s. A fun guy but with a sad story.

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  • @Glossy
    "In the Soviet period, the only spirits available to most citizens were vodka and cognac from the Caucasus"

    There was also Georgian and Moldovan wine, domestic and Czech beer and other stuff. My father's favorite was something called Rigas Balzams.

    "First, rising incomes means Russians can afford to develop more refined tastes."

    People have a long history of getting snobbish about whiskey. Not to the same extent as with wine, but still. I don't drink, but I have a feeling that vodka is suffering from a snobbishness deficit. By the way, I have no idea if any of this snobbishness is justified. All booze tastes horrible to me.

    "...vodka has the weight of tradition behind it and goes much better with the staples of the Russian diet."

    I've read that it's also less harmful to one's health than colored spirits. The stuff that seeps into whiskey from the oak barrels is said to be harmful.

    I’ve read that it’s also less harmful to one’s health than colored spirits.

    If you drink it like a philistine, sure. But as Alex correctly points out, it should be – at least the single malts – sipped and swished about in the mouth; not downed.

    That is obviously infinitely less harmful than consuming a bottle of vodka over an evening like many Russians do every other week.

    My worst alcohol experience is probably the one time when we got so drunk that the host ran out of (real) vodka and started serving us medical spirit mixed with water. By that time we were so drunk we did not care. Unsurprisingly it took place in Russia.

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  • @Glossy
    "In the Soviet period, the only spirits available to most citizens were vodka and cognac from the Caucasus"

    There was also Georgian and Moldovan wine, domestic and Czech beer and other stuff. My father's favorite was something called Rigas Balzams.

    "First, rising incomes means Russians can afford to develop more refined tastes."

    People have a long history of getting snobbish about whiskey. Not to the same extent as with wine, but still. I don't drink, but I have a feeling that vodka is suffering from a snobbishness deficit. By the way, I have no idea if any of this snobbishness is justified. All booze tastes horrible to me.

    "...vodka has the weight of tradition behind it and goes much better with the staples of the Russian diet."

    I've read that it's also less harmful to one's health than colored spirits. The stuff that seeps into whiskey from the oak barrels is said to be harmful.

    Dear Glossy,

    “I’ve read that it’s also less harmfull to one’s health than coloured spirits. The stuff that seeps into whisky from the oak barrels is said to be harmful”.

    If you drink whisky like vodka that is true. Vodka is the most refined spirit since it is distilled to remove impurities. That is why it is so much smoother than whisky or indeed any other spirit and so much easier to drink. Since vodka is so refined it is far less likely to make you feel ill or cause you a headache than whisky if you get drunk on it though I have to say that the habit of some Russians I know of drinking beer after their vodka to stay sober strikes me as rather odd.

    Having said this one should not exaggerate. If you drink whisky properly it should cause you no more ill effect than any other alcoholic drink. By the way by far the worst effect on me of any alcoholic drink was caused by a homemade rum (samogon?) somebody once sent me from Barbados.

    PS: Whisky, vodka, gin, brandy (including cognac) and rum are spirits because they are made through the process known as distillation. They are to be distinguished from wine and beer, which are made in a quite different way and which are not spirits. Balzams by the way is a spirit. The snobbishness you refer to by the way exists in Britain as well and at the moment Riga Balzams is a beneficiary as you will discover if you visit any top bar here.

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    • Replies: @Moscow Exile
    Strange thing is, I used to also bring London Dry Gin back as presents, and nobody really liked it. I used to tell them that it was "English vodka" flavoured with the juniper berry, that it was as pure as the very best vodka, but they thought it inferior to their nationasl drink. And then, in the mid-90s, there appeared small cans of UK (Greenall's) "gin and tonic" on the Moscow streets, which soon began to be retailed in 0.5l cans and which were clearly to Russian taste. Then the Moscow brewery Ochakovo began to manufacture a horrendous version of "dzhin tonik". As I said earlier, tastes change, and there's certianly the "snob factor" to take into consideration with regards to the marketing of Western products in Russia. But I've still not met a Russian that likes to drink gin neat.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @yalensis
    Okay, I hate to admit, but I have NEVER tasted whiskey. I once sniffed it, and I could tell from the smell that I didn't like the taste, so I didn't drink it. I usually drink just good old French wine.
    This article has made me curious, though: Can somebody please explain to me what is the difference between single malt and any other kind of malt?

    Dear Yalensis,

    A malt is a whisky made purely from water and barley from a single distillery. Scotland has scores of distilleries. Though there are various additional factors the single most important thing that determines the taste and quality of the whisky is the water the distillery uses.

    Malts are usually aged for several years in barrels or casks where they have contact with the air and acquire complexity. The period can vary but is usually between ten years and thirty though there are some much older malts. Once a whisky is bottled its development stops and a 24 year old malt kept in a bottle will taste the same in twenty years or as it does in two.

    There are as many styles of malts as there are distilleries but broadly there are five generic styles: lowland (the lightest), highland, Speyside, Camperdown and Island.

    A blend is a whisky that is a mixture of different malts blended with neutral tasting grain whisky. They almost never come with an age statement. The vast majority of whiskies that are sold are blends. Typical examples are Johnny Walker, J&B, Famous Grouse etc. By comparison with malts blends are smoother and more refined and easier drinking but lack a malt’s weight and complexity and character. Malts are generally thought to be the premium product and are usually much more expensive but there are some very fine blends (like Johnny Walker Black Label) that are also considered premium products.

    Whisky is a difficult drink to get to know and is a taste one has to educate oneself to acquire but it is well worth the effort. Because of its strong character it cannot be knocked down like vodka but like Anatoly says must be sipped. It has traditionally been a man’s drink so I am very impressed to learn from Anatoly that Russian women are taking to it because they think it is refined.

    As with a good vodka it is a crime to mix it or use it in cocktails.

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    • Replies: @Martin Armstrong
    Dear Alexander,
    Greetings from Scotland.
    Re the single greatest influence on the taste of a malt whisky, most distillers would probably choose the cask as having the greatest influence determing possibly 50% of taste, possiby followed by whether the malt is heavily peated or un-peated and then the shape of the stills and the way they are used.
    Regards
    Martin
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  • “In the Soviet period, the only spirits available to most citizens were vodka and cognac from the Caucasus”

    There was also Georgian and Moldovan wine, domestic and Czech beer and other stuff. My father’s favorite was something called Rigas Balzams.

    “First, rising incomes means Russians can afford to develop more refined tastes.”

    People have a long history of getting snobbish about whiskey. Not to the same extent as with wine, but still. I don’t drink, but I have a feeling that vodka is suffering from a snobbishness deficit. By the way, I have no idea if any of this snobbishness is justified. All booze tastes horrible to me.

    “…vodka has the weight of tradition behind it and goes much better with the staples of the Russian diet.”

    I’ve read that it’s also less harmful to one’s health than colored spirits. The stuff that seeps into whiskey from the oak barrels is said to be harmful.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Glossy,

    "I've read that it's also less harmfull to one's health than coloured spirits. The stuff that seeps into whisky from the oak barrels is said to be harmful".

    If you drink whisky like vodka that is true. Vodka is the most refined spirit since it is distilled to remove impurities. That is why it is so much smoother than whisky or indeed any other spirit and so much easier to drink. Since vodka is so refined it is far less likely to make you feel ill or cause you a headache than whisky if you get drunk on it though I have to say that the habit of some Russians I know of drinking beer after their vodka to stay sober strikes me as rather odd.

    Having said this one should not exaggerate. If you drink whisky properly it should cause you no more ill effect than any other alcoholic drink. By the way by far the worst effect on me of any alcoholic drink was caused by a homemade rum (samogon?) somebody once sent me from Barbados.

    PS: Whisky, vodka, gin, brandy (including cognac) and rum are spirits because they are made through the process known as distillation. They are to be distinguished from wine and beer, which are made in a quite different way and which are not spirits. Balzams by the way is a spirit. The snobbishness you refer to by the way exists in Britain as well and at the moment Riga Balzams is a beneficiary as you will discover if you visit any top bar here.

    , @Anatoly Karlin
    I’ve read that it’s also less harmful to one’s health than colored spirits.

    If you drink it like a philistine, sure. But as Alex correctly points out, it should be - at least the single malts - sipped and swished about in the mouth; not downed.

    That is obviously infinitely less harmful than consuming a bottle of vodka over an evening like many Russians do every other week.

    My worst alcohol experience is probably the one time when we got so drunk that the host ran out of (real) vodka and started serving us medical spirit mixed with water. By that time we were so drunk we did not care. Unsurprisingly it took place in Russia.

    , @Scowspi
    Riga Black Balsam is awesome stuff if you put a few drops of it in coffee. For sure, I wouldn't take it straight.
    , @AP
    My father-in-law regularly gets some incredible Armenian cognacs (he's an excellent physician, and some of his patients have very good taste and means).
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @Alexander Mercouris
    An utterly fascinating article. It is especially interesting that there is growing interest in single malts.

    By the way Russia has all the means to become an absolutely outstanding producer of whisky, especially in the form of its own single malts. It has a centuries old tradition of distillation, excellent water available in huge quantities and all the barley and grain one could want. Its range of geographical regions should make for an impressive range of whisky extending from the granite regions of Karelia (reproducing the style of highland and Speyside whisky) to the peat areas of central Russia (perfect for Islay style whisky). The Russians could even experiment with what some Scottish distilleries do, which is mature whisky in flavoured barrels previously used to store other drinks like Bourbon or sherry. Options might include brandy barrels from say Armenia or Dagestan or port and sherry barrels from places like Massandra. Russia I believe also has its own style of Madeira, old barrels of which could also be used in this way.

    Come to think of it there is no obvious reason why Russia should not also produce corn whisky like Bourbon (which by the way I happen to like) though given the different climate conditions this would take longer to mature, which might add to its complexity . Another interesting option would be rye whisky, which was common in the US before Prohibition and is still produced on a limited scale in the US and in Canada and which on the one occasion I have drunk it I thought exceptional.

    Perhaps our friends in Scotland and the US should watch out.

    PS: For anyone interested, malts being complex and sophisticated drinks they should be drunk neat and at room temperature. Some people like adding a drop of water. Never drink them chilled, especially not with ice and never add soda water. If you want to do those things stick to blends.

    Okay, I hate to admit, but I have NEVER tasted whiskey. I once sniffed it, and I could tell from the smell that I didn’t like the taste, so I didn’t drink it. I usually drink just good old French wine.
    This article has made me curious, though: Can somebody please explain to me what is the difference between single malt and any other kind of malt?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Yalensis,

    A malt is a whisky made purely from water and barley from a single distillery. Scotland has scores of distilleries. Though there are various additional factors the single most important thing that determines the taste and quality of the whisky is the water the distillery uses.

    Malts are usually aged for several years in barrels or casks where they have contact with the air and acquire complexity. The period can vary but is usually between ten years and thirty though there are some much older malts. Once a whisky is bottled its development stops and a 24 year old malt kept in a bottle will taste the same in twenty years or as it does in two.

    There are as many styles of malts as there are distilleries but broadly there are five generic styles: lowland (the lightest), highland, Speyside, Camperdown and Island.

    A blend is a whisky that is a mixture of different malts blended with neutral tasting grain whisky. They almost never come with an age statement. The vast majority of whiskies that are sold are blends. Typical examples are Johnny Walker, J&B, Famous Grouse etc. By comparison with malts blends are smoother and more refined and easier drinking but lack a malt's weight and complexity and character. Malts are generally thought to be the premium product and are usually much more expensive but there are some very fine blends (like Johnny Walker Black Label) that are also considered premium products.

    Whisky is a difficult drink to get to know and is a taste one has to educate oneself to acquire but it is well worth the effort. Because of its strong character it cannot be knocked down like vodka but like Anatoly says must be sipped. It has traditionally been a man's drink so I am very impressed to learn from Anatoly that Russian women are taking to it because they think it is refined.

    As with a good vodka it is a crime to mix it or use it in cocktails.

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  • @Moscow Exile
    I used to work with several Poles down the pit in the Lancashire coalfields. They all could knock the vodka back in grand style. I remember one of them always used to blame the Russians for his and many of his fellow countrymen's adddiction to vodka, saying that it the Russians who introduced the drink into Poland, where it was used as part payment to Polish serfs in order to make them dependent on it and thereby keep them in servitude. Much later, having emigrated, as it were, to Russia, I learnt that my old Polish drinking pal had got it all wrong and that vodka was introduced into Russia from Poland.

    Ha! I knew it! My father, who grew up mostly in Poland, used to say: “Every Russian knows that a Pole can drink him under the table. But even the Pole must ultimately bow to the Finn.”

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  • @Alexander Mercouris
    Gosh Yalensis! I must try it though given how clumsy I am about most things I suspect if I do that my whole kitchen will explode.

    PS: Good haggis is difficult to find in London. The best is in the luxury shops eg Harrods.

    Ha! I’m not kidding, it’s really good! (Forget London, I suggest you go directly to the source = Edinburgh).

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  • @Moscow Exile
    It's funny how tastes can change, though. In 1991, when I first began to work in Russia and before I decided to settle here, after my visits to the UK I used to bring back whisky to present as gifts. I lived in Voronezh then, and although all my acquaintances were more than keen to try real whisky (you could get Polish "whisky" at the time), the genuine concensus of opinion as regards the "real MacCoy" that I presented them was that it was only "samogon" (Russian hooch, white lightning, moonshine, potcheen). After a while I got a bit tired of this and told one seemingly ungracious recipient of a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label that the "samogon" in question happened to be a 12-year-old blended whisky. He then told me he could make the same whisky in much less time. After he had gone, my then girlfriend assured me that her "uncle", he who had criticised the whisky, was well known for his samogon making skills. A week later we were guests at "uncle's", and he presented me with the fruit of his labour: it was bloody good! And he hadn't just swapped the Johnny Walker that I had given him the week before: he still had most of it. He then showed me other examples of his distilling skills, which included his own "Amaretto" liqueur and "cognac". There then followed a very interesting degustation. We had to get a taxi home.

    As a postscript to this little tale, I enjoyed a revenge of sorts some 7 years later, when, as a newly wed, I first took my Russian wife (not the Voronezh girl with the talented uncle) to the UK. We were in a Manchester "Irish" pub (real Irish that is: a small backstreet establishment frequented by Irishmen) that I used to hang out in, and the landlord, whom I knew well, invited me to a "stay-behind". As soon as the doors were locked and the curtains drawn, out from the back came a tray of potcheen (Irish "samogon"). On trying it, my wife was, to use the vernacular, "gobsmacked". She then said in English "I didn't know that the English did this!" There was a moment's silence from the company that we were in, and then the landlord said to them "She's Russian". The "craic" was good after that.

    Dear Moscow Exile,

    If the man could reproduce a Johnny Walker Black Label then he was little short of a genius. With talent like that how can Russia fail?

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    • Replies: @Moscow Exile
    Well, it wasn't exactly Johnny Walker Black label that he had replicated, but if you had put it behind a bar in the UK, you would have been able to sell it to binge drinkers without any problem.
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  • It’s funny how tastes can change, though. In 1991, when I first began to work in Russia and before I decided to settle here, after my visits to the UK I used to bring back whisky to present as gifts. I lived in Voronezh then, and although all my acquaintances were more than keen to try real whisky (you could get Polish “whisky” at the time), the genuine concensus of opinion as regards the “real MacCoy” that I presented them was that it was only “samogon” (Russian hooch, white lightning, moonshine, potcheen). After a while I got a bit tired of this and told one seemingly ungracious recipient of a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label that the “samogon” in question happened to be a 12-year-old blended whisky. He then told me he could make the same whisky in much less time. After he had gone, my then girlfriend assured me that her “uncle”, he who had criticised the whisky, was well known for his samogon making skills. A week later we were guests at “uncle’s”, and he presented me with the fruit of his labour: it was bloody good! And he hadn’t just swapped the Johnny Walker that I had given him the week before: he still had most of it. He then showed me other examples of his distilling skills, which included his own “Amaretto” liqueur and “cognac”. There then followed a very interesting degustation. We had to get a taxi home.

    As a postscript to this little tale, I enjoyed a revenge of sorts some 7 years later, when, as a newly wed, I first took my Russian wife (not the Voronezh girl with the talented uncle) to the UK. We were in a Manchester “Irish” pub (real Irish that is: a small backstreet establishment frequented by Irishmen) that I used to hang out in, and the landlord, whom I knew well, invited me to a “stay-behind”. As soon as the doors were locked and the curtains drawn, out from the back came a tray of potcheen (Irish “samogon”). On trying it, my wife was, to use the vernacular, “gobsmacked”. She then said in English “I didn’t know that the English did this!” There was a moment’s silence from the company that we were in, and then the landlord said to them “She’s Russian”. The “craic” was good after that.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Dear Moscow Exile,

    If the man could reproduce a Johnny Walker Black Label then he was little short of a genius. With talent like that how can Russia fail?

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • One small and ultra pedantic point.

    A Scottish whisky is “whisky”. An Irish or American whisky is “whiskey”. Scottish whisky is distilled twice. Irish whiskey is distilled three times, which adds smoothness at the expense of complexity. All Irish whiskeys are blends. Single malts are almost always Scottish.

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    • Replies: @Martin Armstrong
    Yet another small pedantic correction. Most whisky from Scotland is distilled twice but historically whisky from the Scottish Lowlands was triple distilled eg Auchentoschen, Rosebank, Bladnoch. However Bladnoch is now only distilled twice, Rosebank has closed and Auchentoschen continues to be triple distilled.
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • An utterly fascinating article. It is especially interesting that there is growing interest in single malts.

    By the way Russia has all the means to become an absolutely outstanding producer of whisky, especially in the form of its own single malts. It has a centuries old tradition of distillation, excellent water available in huge quantities and all the barley and grain one could want. Its range of geographical regions should make for an impressive range of whisky extending from the granite regions of Karelia (reproducing the style of highland and Speyside whisky) to the peat areas of central Russia (perfect for Islay style whisky). The Russians could even experiment with what some Scottish distilleries do, which is mature whisky in flavoured barrels previously used to store other drinks like Bourbon or sherry. Options might include brandy barrels from say Armenia or Dagestan or port and sherry barrels from places like Massandra. Russia I believe also has its own style of Madeira, old barrels of which could also be used in this way.

    Come to think of it there is no obvious reason why Russia should not also produce corn whisky like Bourbon (which by the way I happen to like) though given the different climate conditions this would take longer to mature, which might add to its complexity . Another interesting option would be rye whisky, which was common in the US before Prohibition and is still produced on a limited scale in the US and in Canada and which on the one occasion I have drunk it I thought exceptional.

    Perhaps our friends in Scotland and the US should watch out.

    PS: For anyone interested, malts being complex and sophisticated drinks they should be drunk neat and at room temperature. Some people like adding a drop of water. Never drink them chilled, especially not with ice and never add soda water. If you want to do those things stick to blends.

    Read More
    • Replies: @yalensis
    Okay, I hate to admit, but I have NEVER tasted whiskey. I once sniffed it, and I could tell from the smell that I didn't like the taste, so I didn't drink it. I usually drink just good old French wine.
    This article has made me curious, though: Can somebody please explain to me what is the difference between single malt and any other kind of malt?
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @yalensis
    If Russians start to drink whiskey, then they must start eating Scottish haggis as well, since the two go together so well. In fact, haggis tastes best when you pour whiskey over it and set the whole thing on fire! :)

    Gosh Yalensis! I must try it though given how clumsy I am about most things I suspect if I do that my whole kitchen will explode.

    PS: Good haggis is difficult to find in London. The best is in the luxury shops eg Harrods.

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    • Replies: @yalensis
    Ha! I'm not kidding, it's really good! (Forget London, I suggest you go directly to the source = Edinburgh).
    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc.
  • @georgesdelatour
    Do Russians like Port?

    Russian “bomzhi” (person of no fixed abode) seem to like it. There is, in fact, a Russian port wine:

    http://alcoz.ru/vina/1251-russkiy-portveyn.html

    I say “Russian” port, but I guess it comes from the Crimea, which, offficially, is now part of the Ukraine. It always reminds me of the cheap South African port that the alkies in my old part of the world (Northwest England) used to drink inYates’s Wine Lodges.

    Having said that bomzhi like port, I feel I should add that they also like de-icing fluid, metal polish, eau de cologne etc.

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  • I used to work with several Poles down the pit in the Lancashire coalfields. They all could knock the vodka back in grand style. I remember one of them always used to blame the Russians for his and many of his fellow countrymen’s adddiction to vodka, saying that it the Russians who introduced the drink into Poland, where it was used as part payment to Polish serfs in order to make them dependent on it and thereby keep them in servitude. Much later, having emigrated, as it were, to Russia, I learnt that my old Polish drinking pal had got it all wrong and that vodka was introduced into Russia from Poland.

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    • Replies: @yalensis
    Ha! I knew it! My father, who grew up mostly in Poland, used to say: "Every Russian knows that a Pole can drink him under the table. But even the Pole must ultimately bow to the Finn."
    , @Anatoly Karlin
    I used to know a Polish guy called Roman when I lived in the UK.

    He was liberated from a German concentration camp in 1945 and picked up Russian from the Red Army soldiers to a surprisingly high level. Amazingly, he still remembered enough to be able to talk to us in Russian in the late 1990's, about 50 years since he left Poland to emigrate to Britain. There, without a formal education - as he had spent many of his teenage years imprisoned - he worked as a construction worker until an accident left him disabled. His English wife divorced him soon after and he was left to live alone on his modest pension.

    We were neighbors for a few years. He was a Germanophobe, and unusually for a Pole, also an Anglophobe and Russophile - a natural product of his life experiences, I suppose. He also slipped me £10 notes every so often, most of which my parents forced me to return. ;)

    He drank a lot and smoked a lot, and died from lung cancer in his 70's. A fun guy but with a sad story.

    , @AP
    Someone at our table at a wedding in Poland had lived with a family in France for a few months (I think he was an exchange student or part of some cultural exchange in the very early 90's, when it was still rare for Poles to be in the West). Every morning his hosts would serve him vodka, which he politely drank. After a few days he remarked to his hosts, what a strange custom they had in France, to drink vodka every morning for breakfast. His hosts then said that they thought that this was what was done in Poland, and they wanted him to feel at home.
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  • Do Russians like Port?

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    • Replies: @Moscow Exile
    Russian "bomzhi" (person of no fixed abode) seem to like it. There is, in fact, a Russian port wine:

    http://alcoz.ru/vina/1251-russkiy-portveyn.html

    I say "Russian" port, but I guess it comes from the Crimea, which, offficially, is now part of the Ukraine. It always reminds me of the cheap South African port that the alkies in my old part of the world (Northwest England) used to drink inYates's Wine Lodges.

    Having said that bomzhi like port, I feel I should add that they also like de-icing fluid, metal polish, eau de cologne etc.

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  • In Poland in the 1990s there was a Beer-Lovers political party – the PPPP (Polska Partia Przyjaciół Piwa). As Wikipedia notes: “originally, the party’s goal was to promote cultural beer-drinking in English-style pubs instead of vodka and thus fight alcoholism”.

    Intriguing that the UK could serve as a model for sensible moderation in alcohol consumption…

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    • Replies: @Scowspi
    The PPPP actually won about 18 seats in the Polish parliament in 1993. This was during the period just after the fall of communism, when Poland had something like 200 political parties.
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  • If Russians start to drink whiskey, then they must start eating Scottish haggis as well, since the two go together so well. In fact, haggis tastes best when you pour whiskey over it and set the whole thing on fire! :)

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    • Replies: @Alexander Mercouris
    Gosh Yalensis! I must try it though given how clumsy I am about most things I suspect if I do that my whole kitchen will explode.

    PS: Good haggis is difficult to find in London. The best is in the luxury shops eg Harrods.

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  • It’s the way of drinking that often causes problems when members of one national group try to adapt themselves to drinking another national tipple. In my experience, Russians find it hard to sip whisky, being used to throwing vodka down their throats and then taking a bite out of a salted gherkin; on the other hand, I’ve often seen Americans gag when trying to drink vodka after the Russian fashion, being used to sipping it in cocktails. It’s the same with many British in France; they can’t sit around a glass of wine for half an hour or so like a Frenchman can: they’ve got to whack it down necks like a pint of bitter and then shout out “Whose bloody round is it?” :-)

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  • During the past two years, Russian "dissident" liberals Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov have produced a frankly maniacal quantity of so-called "Independent Expert Reports" (there are now seven of them) that purport to debunk the "persistent myths imposed by official [Kremlin] propaganda". The authors say that their latest exegesis, melodramatically entitled "Putin. The Results. 10...
  • [...] such as Anatoly Karlin and Sean Guillory easily dismember without breaking a sweat, as they did here and [...]

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  • One thing that strikes you, as you wander the shops of any Russian city, is the sheer cheapness of booze and cigs. As little as 3 years ago, one could buy a pint-sized bottle of beer or a pack of cigarettes for just $1, while a 0.5l bottle of vodka cost as little as $3....
  • I think the raising of taxes on alcohol is less dangerous than people make it out to be. The two most visible examples in Russia are the Gorbachev era, as mentioned, as well as a lesser known, but equally telling situation that occurred in the mid-2000′s.

    In about 2005/06, Russia embarked on an effort to better legitimize the alcohol supply by changing to a new labeling system. All hard alcohol had to be registered through a new system and to get a new type of label. The process was botched due to poor planning and a lack of labels. The majority of the hard alcohol supply was almost completely stymied for close to three months. I was living there at the time and was stunned at the sight of empty liquor shelves.

    As feared, many Russians took to desperate measures by drinking more moonshine and even perfume. Headlines sprouted up everywhere about the shocking deaths that resulted from it, causing hysteria and a demand to do something about it. In the end, the real statistics showed that during that short period, deaths from alcohol poisoning actually decreased. One must look past the media frenzy and notice that reducing accessibility to hard alcohol does make a positive impact.

    There are two other important forces that must be in place to put the final nails in the coffin to problematic drinking in societies: economic and cultural.

    In societies where economic opportunities improve, people have more to lose when they have good jobs. The price of showing up to work hungover gets too high. Hopefully, Russian prosperity will be an effective cure over the long haul. The other variable is the availability of other options beyond vodka. To me, vodka is nearly a poison, so as alternatives increase, like beer and wine, drinkers will at least be consuming something that is less toxic. Drinking levels in France, Germany, and Italy are not that far off from Russian drinking levels, yet they are usually drinking wine and beer which are far less harmful than vodka.

    The last nail is the removal of social acceptance of heavy drinking. Economics can’t cure everything. Statistics have even shown, much to Medvedev’s surprise, that despite improved prosperity in the last 10-15 years, alcohol consumption has not declined. Until the public stigmatizes drunkenness, the problem will still remain stubborn to remove.

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  • It’s a bit more complicated than merely bad living conditions during Soviet times which explains the alcoholism. Since the state ran the Vodka racket for centuries, Russians do not think beer is an alcoholic beverage but a soft drink. This cultural distortion means that getting together for an evening with your friends or family is to drink at least a quarter of a bottle of 40% proof alcohol. Peer pressure to consume hard alcohol results in addiction.

    This is a good post showing that alcohol is a primary factor in the short Russian lifespan compared to the west. At least with the fall of communism there has been some cultural change towards “soft” alcohol for socializing. It is time for western style sin taxes and bans on tobacco advertising.

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