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Sbiten - Russia's Traditional Winter-time Beverage
by Alden Smith
Sbiten, the traditional beverage for wintertime in Russia, is a drink with a
long, colorful history. Research shows that sbiten has been around since the
fourteenth century. Traditionally, Sbiten was served from oft-heated copper
samovars by the sbitenshchik, who served it up until the beginning of the
twentieth century on Russian street corners.
I have always loved all things Russian. For the past twenty years, I have
collected stamps from Russia and outlying territories, and have an extensive
collection in 2 large Scott's Standard books. One of my favorite composers and
pianist is Kostia, whose haunting music of his Russian homeland is a beautiful
listening experience. If I am particularly stressed out, it is Kostia I turn to.
His albums include Suite St. Petersburg and 10 Pebbles, among others.
Sbiten is made in different ways, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic. It is the
perfect antidote for long cold winters, something Russia is famous for. Here in
Michigan, it is a real treat for us old folks that hate winter.
The word Sbiten comes the from the verb sbit--to beat or to pound. The herbs and
spices are ground in a mortar, and then mixed with honey or molasses. It is
allowed to ferment for a short period, and then mixed with water to make a
slightly alcoholic drink. Replacing the water with a good Cabernet Sauvignon
makes for a more lively drink, one to be appreciated by all. It is also
fortified with brandy or vodka for a more potent libation.
The Basic Recipe for Sbiten:
3 1/2 cups water
2 cups honey
3 cinnamon sticks
2-3 cardamom pods, seeds removed, toasted and crushed
1/3 Tsp ground ginger
1 TBS whole cloves
2 dried chili peppers (optional)
2 TBS raspberry or apricot jam
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a slow boil over
medium heat. Whisk continuously to insure honey is well mixed. Remove from heat
and allow to come to room temperature. Strain liquid through cheesecloth into an
airtight container for storage and refrigerate until ready to bottle.
I buy 750 ml Cobalt Blue EZ Cap bottle from the local brewmeister to bottle
anything like Sbiten to present as a gift during the holiday season. Add some
fancy ribbon, a foil cap to the bottle, and a gift card. For about $8 USD you
have a wonderful gift to present to friends or co-workers. A case of the Cobalt
Blue bottles runs about $15.00.
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