Nastoiki are homemade Russian liquors, usually flavoured vodka. Many restaurants and bars will sell a selection of 3 or 4 different flavours; some might have up to 6 different flavours to choose from. If you are feeling brave you can buy a set – one of each – to try. There are sweet ones generally infused with berries with cranberry, raspberry, cloudberry, or cherry being the most common. But there are also ‘dry’ ones, such as horseradish, ginger, and cedar nuts.
Our first experience was during our stay in Suzdal when the couple at the table next to us had ordered 2 sets of 6 Nastoiki; one set for him, which he drank with gusto, and one set for her which she sipped very slowly and gave half to him. So, figuring that one should eat and drink what the locals do, we also ordered a set each. Unlike our table neighbours I did not give any of mine to my husband, although I did swap him a berry one for my horseradish one.
Having discovered the Nastoiki secret we now do it everywhere! We generally enjoy our Nastoiki of all flavours, though I do tend to avoid the horseradish ones which are incredibly peppery and strong (my husband loves it having tried it previously in Ukraine).
Recently, in the interests of research, we ordered a set of four from our local bar. Oh dear, big mistake! They had infused some very unusual flavours: tomato & grapefruit, smoky bacon, apple puree, and salted cucumber. They were, without exception, disgusting!
For further information on what to drink in Russia you should read this excellent article from Culture Trip which says the practice of Nastoiki ‘has been undergoing something of a revival as of late’.
Less filling than beer and less expensive than wine they offer a tasty, affordable, and slightly less strong alternative to vodka. Try one or a set next time you are in a Russian restaurant. But don’t forget to DRINK RESPONSIBLY !!