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Russia's favorite drink turns 500

By Jill Dougherty
CNN Moscow Bureau Chief

Russians have been drinking vodka for 500 years.
Russians have been drinking vodka for 500 years.

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Vodka celebrates 500 years as a key part of the Russian culture.
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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev tried to ban it, his successor Boris Yeltsin drank as much of it as he could while current president Vladimir Putin prefers green tea.

Vodka, the famous Russian drink, is celebrating 500 years since it was first distilled by monks.

The clear liquor, these days drunk by people around the world, is thought to have been invented in 1503 by Kremlin monks, who used it as an antiseptic before they started downing it.

Since then, it has been an important part of Russians' lives and almost every event, including weddings and funerals, is blessed -- and sometimes cursed -- with vodka.

Studies show Russians drink more hard liquor than any other nation in the world, including vodka -- which means "little water."

In Russia, the drink isn't sipped; it's drunk bottoms up, and is usually followed by a chaser -- usually something salty or pickled.

Most importantly though, it's not about how you drink your vodka -- it's about why.

Throughout Russia's turbulent history, vodka has been the ultimate remedy for people to forget their troubles.

Author Viktor Erofeyev, who has studied the history of the drink, calls it "the Russian God."

"Other countries they can drink. In Russia, it is not drinking. You are drinking not vodka. You are drinking your soul."

He said Russia's history would have been very different if it hadn't included vodka.


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