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Do you remember that

"Wodka Wars"

thing we did on VBS where Ivar went back and forth between Poland and Russia to see whose claim to the origin of vodka was most cogent? Poland kicked Russia's ass. Big time. Our friend Andre Simonov couldn't handle this disgrace, so he brought us an old photograph with a little essay written on the back in teensy-tiny little handwriting about his first encounter with the "real tough stuff", Samagon. We're not sure how having a completely different liquor means that Russia should get the rights to the name "vodka", but we like the story all the same. Here tis:

"I was 13 years old when I tried Samagon for the first time. I was out on the town, well, village with my cousin, trying to hook up with some girls. As we passed the local "center of culture" aka tacky village disco, we met the big guys who'd fuck around on their huge tractors during daytime. To me back then that basically meant: "These are the really tough guys. They're 17, they know how to drive tractors, they have girls, and they drink booze." Before I knew it, I was offered a "


"—my weak Russian-slang skills were enough to figure it had to be something along the same lines as vodka, so I went for it—you never pass up the chance to impress the big guys when you're 13, right? They poured me a plastic cup and I downed it. The burning sensation wasn't all too bad actually. They poured me another one. My cousin said something I didn't comprehend, so I downed the next one. Then we hit the village disco. I had a blast for about 20 minutes and then all I remember is my cousin dragging me through the dark and deserted village in the middle of the night and spending the rest of the night turning my intestines inside out. The next day I found out the guys from the other village were on a mission to kill me. For some reason they thought I had checked out their girl. When they told me which one I said: "Are you kidding me? She's so damn ugly, I'd never look at her in a million years." That earned me tons of respect among the local youth. The kind of respect that still gets me respectful bows, whenever I visit the village now, after all these years. Many of the guys—especially the tough ones—have died since. They had too much "water" or decided to drive a bike or car after having two or more cups of that stuff. Samagon, or "Wasserschin" as they like to call it in the rural areas, is a homemade spirit. The different distilling techniques people apply range from super-simple to extraordinarily complicated, but no matter how elaborate the method of choice, if the guy who's distilling the spirit doesn't have a clue or dilutes it with antifreeze liquid, then chances are you'll die or at least end up blind. I guess I was smart enough to stick to my neighbors' fusel only. They produce their own liquor, which sort of guarantees that unlike the guys who distill for sale they won't dilute it with antifreeze or any other poison they have handy. OK, so how is this Samagon stuff actually made? Our neighbors always follow through with the same procedure—you need a big pot with bread, water, a lot of sugar and bit of yeast. You heat up the mix, the vapor first rises and then condenses because it's sent through a pipe that's cooled down by water or ice. The vapor comes out as little drops on the other end. The traditional method is to collect the drops in a jar. It's a small jar to begin with because the spirit is not any good at that stage. Every half hour or so you push a piece of paper or cloth into the liquid and light it on fire. If the flame's still red, your eyes will be dead. Once the flame reaches a solid blue, it's drinkable. My neighbors' stuff always tastes the same, but it's hard to put into words. All I can say is that it's thicker than water, and a bit like jelly. In Moscow I tried this Samagon once that tasted like cherries. It came from a monastery, so I guess Russia must be pretty cool for cenobites."