A bit of history and some interesting facts:
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Horilka in Ukrainian or Vodka in Russian is a typically colorless liquor, usually distilled from fermented grain. It is commonly thought that the term is taken from the Slavic word "voda" (woda, вода) for "water." In Ukrainian "vodka" is "horilka". (with the words root meaning being "to burn")
Except for insignificant amounts of flavorings, horilka consists of water and alcohol (ethanol). Horilka usually has an alcohol content ranging from 35 to 60 percent by volume. The classic Ukrainian or Russian horilka / vodka is 40 percent (80 degrees proof), the number being attributed to the famous Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev. According to the Vodka Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, Mendeleev thought the perfect percentage to be 38, but since spirits in his time were taxed on their strength the percentage was rounded up to 40 to simplify the tax computation. Nowdays you can also find 38 percent horilka, but is usually called "Light".
Although horilka is generally consumed "straight" in its Central European and Scandinavian homeland, its growth in popularity elsewhere owes much to its usefulness in cocktails and other mixed drinks, such as the Bloody Mary, the Bullshot, and the Vodka Martini (also known as a Vodkatini), a dry martini made with vodka instead of gin.
The origins of horilka (and of its name) cannot be traced definitively, but it is believed to have originated in the grain-growing regions that now embrace Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and western Russia. It also has a long tradition in Scandinavia.
Vodka / horilka may be distilled from any starch/sugar-rich plant matter. Most horilkas today is produced from grains such as sorghum, corn, rye or wheat. Among grain vodka, rye and wheat vodka is generally considered superior. Some horilka is made from potatoes, molasses, soybeans, grapes and sometimes even byproducts of oil refining or wood pulp processing. In some Central European countries like Poland some vodka is produced by just fermenting a solution of crystal sugar and some salts for the yeast and then distilling this after a few weeks.
A common property of all horilka, compared to other spirits, is that before any flavouring is added, they are neutralized as much as possible. This is often done by filtering it in a column stil during distillation, and filtering through charcoal and other means after distillation. The idea is to remove everything except pure water and pure alcohol from the liquid. As a result, horilka has a very neutral taste.
Apart from the alcoholic content, horilka / vodka may be classified into two main groups: clear horilka and flavored horilka. Flavorings often include red pepper, ginger, various fruit flavors, vanilla, chocolate (unsweetened), and cinnamon. Ukrainians produce a commercial horilka also that includes St John's Wort (a plant).The Poles and Belarusians add the leaves of the local bison grass to produce Żubrówka or Zubrovka vodka, which has a slightly sweet flavor and a light amber color. In Ukraine and Russia, vodka flavored with honey and pepper (Pertsovka, in Russian, Pertsivka, in Ukrainian) is also very popular. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vodka)
During the times of Peter the Czar, there was a custom: that each foreign ambassador at the courtyard should drink « the so called " Cup of the White Eagle" being » - one and a half litres of vodka. Foreigners were in shock and began to bring imposter ambassadors: one would drink, and the other would discuss important subjects.
Up untill the 19th century the percentage of horilka varied from 25 to 38 degrees. Vodka / horilka was made in a very basic fashion: they took a bucket of spirit and a bucket of water and mixed it all together. As soon as the "cocktail" ceased to burn , it was vodka. After the invention of the spirit meter they discovered that this happens at 38 degrees. Later it was decided to impose a tax on horilka by number of degrees. But the number 38 was inconvenient for calculating, so in 1894 a large commission convened with Mendeleyev as the head of it to prove that it was possible to bring horilka's proof to 40 degrees without a problem. It was thought to be an optimum degree to enjoy its taste. If the drink were stronger - it would simply burn.
There's a rule: It's better not to cool horilka too much, even though it is possible to swallow inferior horilka more easily when cold. If the drink is of good quality, - don't chill the bottle in the freezer. You'll be able to enjoy it's superior flavor more thoroughly.
To get maximum enjoyment from your favorite Horilka simply use water as a chaser.
Be advised: according to tradition, a large meal should cover the table when you are going to drink substancially. A big bottle and a big meal go hand in hand. The most popular snacks are pickled vegetables and salo! Most agree that even untill now, in this realm, mankind has not invented anything more ingenious than the pickle! Fish is also a favorite, especially - salted or smoked. Most common being salmon, sturgeon, or herring. Sweets and dairy products are not appropriate with vodka.
What does it mean to drink "na pososhok"? This tradition is very old. Visitors who were coming from far away lands had a staff, or walking stick, known in russian as a "posoh", It had a hollowed out hole on top. A glass of vodka was usually placed in that hole. If the visitor was able to drink the vodka and not touch the glass with his hands, it meant, that his guest was still ok and could get home on his own without too much trouble. But if the glass should fall out, it's taken as an indication to put his friend up for the night.
If you're feeling that it's hard to get up the next morning, it means you probably had a drop too much. In fact all of these discomforts' can be avoided if you stick to some simple rules developed over the centuries.
Hangover symptoms are common knowledge. It can be a headache,dry mouth" and sometimes stomach problems. If your head hurts in the morning, head to the fridge and grab a few icecubes. Make a cold compress and apply to your forehead. In a couple of minutes you will feel better. A headache starts because the alcohol causes the blood vessels' to expand. Under the cold compress the situation will quickly normalize. Mineral water with a lemon can ease your thirst. Usually, Ukrainians like to drink fresh brine (pickle juice) in the morning.
Additionaly, it helps to replenish your depleted body with minerals and salts. Tea with sage herb can quickly ease and normalize your stomach. A glass of cold milk or, even better, a glass of "kefir" (butter milk) can also help.
If, in addition to drinking, you are also a smoker, then drink plenty of orange juice as it restores the stock of vitamin C destroyed by nicotine. Capsules with vitamin C can also be helpful. Doctors advise to take a contrast(cold and hot)shower, or even better, have a bath with sea salt (best with lavender essential oil). Take your time and don't be overzealous. Let your bath be for10-15 minutes, and then in about forty minutes or so you will feel much better. Your body will be quickly cleared of the alcohol related poisons.
Of course, if you want to avoid the unpleasentries of bingeing, simply "don't drink too much". Know your limits and heed the warning signs.
Boodmoe!! (Cheers!!) :)