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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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Alden Smith is an award winning author who is the webmaster of All The Best Recipes. Find the recipe for Sbiten and many other fine foods at http://www.allthebestrecipes.com. Many informative articles and recipes are posted there daily.


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