It's easy to think the only traditional drink to try in Russia is vodka, but the county has many less-famous but equally delicious drinks to offer, whether alcoholic or not. For the foodies and the daring drinkers, here are the top six drinks you must try while visiting Russia.
In Russia, it’s quite common for locals to meet at a bar, have a small bite to eat, and finish the meal with a shot of vodka. This country has some of the best vodkas in the world, so if you only imbibe once during your stay, make sure it's Russia's unofficial national drink, but be careful not to overindulge, as it can hit you quite hard, and quickly.
Kvas is a mildly sweet drink that can be compared to sparkling cider. It's made from fermented dark rye bread, and herbs, and has a very low alcohol content (0.5–1 percent). It’s an ancient proletariat drink that farmers and workers used to drink instead of water to quench their thirst.
Kvas is usually served in large portions for a very low price. Although you can also buy it by the bottle at most supermarkets and corner shops, it's best to look for a place that has it on tap. It's refreshing, and perfect for enjoying on a hot summer day. It's also a great alternative to higher alcoholic drinks.
Mors is a sweet, fermented juice made from foxberries, which are regional Russian berries that taste somewhat like cranberries. Mors is thicker than regular juices, and due to the fermentation, it has a mild alcohol content (around 1 percent).
Mors is often used in cocktails to add flavor and sweetness, although it’s also a favorite among children. It’s also usually easy to find, quite inexpensive, and tasty, making it a must-try Russian drink.
Ryazhenka is a slightly bizarre drink that's made from slow-boiling milk for 8 hours or longer and then fermented, making it similar in texture to drinkable yogurt. The process of making Ryazhenka is similar to how condensed milk is made, but the result is quite different but no less delicious. Ryazhenka can be purchased in most small shops and grocery stores, as well as larger public markets.
Believe it or not, Russia produces some exceptional beer. Although you will find plenty of Polish and German beers, you should stick to local breweries, as they are much more difficult to find outside of the country. The local beer selections are also usually the cheapest ones on the menu, so that's also something to keep in mind.
If you are going to St. Petersburg, Vasilyeostrovskoe beer is a must-try. It comes in light, dark, and red varieties, and it is brewed right on the Vasileostrovsky Island, which is part of central St. Petersburg and connected to the mainland via six bridges.
Black Tea/Cherry Varenya
Like the famous New York City restaurant would have you believe, Russians are big tea drinkers. Stop into any cafe, and you will find a large selection of teas as well as sweet treats to pair with it, which is a must in Russia.
Black tea is the most popular choice among locals, and most Russians drink it black, without adding milk or sweetener, but some also enjoy a Cherry Varenya, which was made famous by "The Russian" on HBO's Sex and the City. A Cherry Varenya is simply black tea with sour cherries, lemon, and a bit of sugar. It does add a bit of sweetness to plain tea, but the tartness of the lemon and cherries, along with the slight bitterness of the tea, make it very well balanced and a more grown-up way of sweetening a beverage.
While this drink's description sounds a lot like kvas, it differs in one important area: alcohol content. Also made from rye, this drink has a natural sweetness that is magnified by using toasted grains.
The grains are then fed yeast, allowing for fermentation, and then distilled twice, similar to whiskey, bourbon, and of course rye production. The end result tastes like the aforementioned spirits, without being aged in barrels. This drink was the precursor to the modern vodka that we all enjoy today.