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Asked what comes to mind when they hear the words “Russian food,” people usually say borscht, vodka, and caviar. Borscht is actually Ukrainian, but vodka and caviar are indeed iconically Russian—and ideal complements to each other. The spirit’s crisp, clean profile delivers a refreshing counterpoint to the rich, buttery fish eggs. No indulgence is more Russian than a generous scoop of caviar followed by a toast—to peace, to friendship, to beautiful women—and a swallow. “Moderation in all things” is a Greek motto, not a Russian one.

Vodkas vary wildly depending on their base ingredient and how each variety is crafted. The spirit can be distilled from any fermentable ingredient (even from milk, in Vermont). Although Poland has perfected the art of distilling soft-tasting vodka from potatoes, I think the finest comes from grains such as rye, barley, or wheat. Vodka’s transformative powers meant that it was…

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