Strizhament is a straw-colored bitters with an aroma of steppe grass from the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. It has a well-balanced mild flavor with light hints of bitterness. This drink goes well with meat dishes and is usually served warm. It’s a great appetizer, which used to be a signature alcoholic drink of the USSR ruling elite. It also helped Michael Gorbachev with his political endeavors in Kremlin.
Historical Note. Stavropol distillery was founded in 1868 by merchant Ivan Alafuzov for the production of bread wine (a common name for vodka and cereal distillates at that time). Over time, the company’s assortment expanded, but the nationwide fame came only after the Strizhament bitters was invented. Tamara Karlova, company’s director, came up with the recipe in 1977 on the instructions of the first secretary of the CPSU territory committee Mikhail Gorbachev in honor of the 200th anniversary of Stavropol.
The distillery and bitters were named after the like-named mountain in the North Caucasus. On this mountain, there was a fortified retrenchment—an inner defensive trench grid constructed in rear of existing defenses to bar the further progress of the enemy. Soldiers who served in the local garrison named this location after swift birds (Strizhament in Russian), which were nesting there. As time progressed, the mountain also adopted this name.
Party organizers Union-wide became connoisseurs of this drink, and that’s why Strizhament became scarce and very expensive almost immediately. For the common Soviet people, it was a valuable gift which could be brought back from a trip to the Caucasus. Legend has it that Strizhament helped Gorbachev solve issues of Stavropol Krai and climb career ladder up to the general secretary of the USSR.
In contemporary Russia, the production of this drink has stopped numerous times. After the distillery went bankrupt the production was moved from Stavropol to Kuban (in 2012 it returned). As a result of all the changes, the current version of Strizhament doesn’t resemble the original Soviet drink that much. These changes have even affected Strizhament’s composition, as new herbs have been added to it. But there is still a way of making Strizhament following the original recipe from the “Collection of Liquor Recipes,” 1981.
Classic Recipe of Strizhament
Ingredients per 1 liter of drink:
- Vodka (ethanol 40%) – 1.25 liters
- Brandy – 50 ml
- Clarified green apple juice – 75 ml
- Mint – 3 grams
- Lemon balm – 2 grams
- St John’s wort – 2 grams
- Oak chips – 2 grams
- Garden angelica – 2 grams
- Yellow melilot – 2 grams
- Oregano – 1 grams
- Yarrow – 0.5 grams
- Wormwood – 0.5 grams
- Hyssop – 0.5 grams
All herbs can be purchased in a drugstore or specialized shops. Base alcohol should be of high-quality, and in the original recipe, it’s “lux” or “alpha” ethanol. Thus, vodka of the same class can be used. First, you prepare an essence which is then mixed with brandy, apple juice, and absolute alcohol.
- Put all herbs in a glass container and pour over with 250 ml of vodka or ethanol. Seal the container and leave it in a dark place at room temperature. Infuse for 7 days, shake once a day and then strain through a cheesecloth. Gently squeeze the herbs. Filter the liquid through cotton wool or coffee filter. Now you have a herb essence which will be enough for 10 liters of bitters.
- Mix apple juice, brandy, and 25 ml of herb essence in a glass container. Fill the container up to 1 liter with vodka (or diluted ethanol) and stir.
- Seal and infuse for 21 days. Shake once every 3-4 days.
The obtained homemade Strizhament is ready for consumption right after that. It has 36-37% ABV. Strizhament’s shelf-life is up to 3 years if stored away from direct sunlight.