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Alcohol in Afghanistan

Alcohol is an important part of the social life almost everywhere in the world. Soviet Union was not an exception. In fact, out of all legal and illegal substances, alcohol was, by the far, the most common and praised. A considerable portion of a regular city dweller salary would go toward vodka from the grocery store. Those who lived in the country side would abuse the alcohol even more - for good reasons. The access to alcohol was easier, as almost every household would be producing its own wine or hooch. But its hard to blame anyone - there was not much to do in a regular Soviet village.

Alcohol in Afghanistan
Very unusual situation - Soviet soldiers drinking bottled vodka on an operation

Peacetime traditions are rarely interrupted by the change of living conditions, even at war. Finding alcohol was hard in Afghanistan for two reasons: restrictions from the Army and the fact that Afghanistan is a strictly Islamic country. But those who seeks - always find.

The local "Kishmishivka" - Afghani made hootch

Even though Afghanistan is a Muslim country, is it also an eastern country. The free market makes wonders and Soviet demand for alcoholic drinks was met by the local entrepreneurs. The local signature drink was a very crude vodka like drink made from grapes. Hence the name - Kish-Mish, which was the Russian name of the Sultana. This sort of grape is very widespread in the area and using it for low quality alcohol distillation made the utmost sense. It is speculated in the memoirs, that hootch was actually made from rotten grape, as good ones were used to dry into raising or to eat fresh.

Alcohol in Afghanistan

Overall, Kishmishivka had pretty bad reputation and was the alcohol of last resort. The drink was supplied in plastic bags - to cut the costs. Soldiers would then poke the bottom of the bag and pour the liquid into the flask. A more noble version of the drink was made from pomegranate juice and sugar. It is likely that this one was invented in the later days of the war to fulfill the demands of the Soviet officers and other buyers who could pay better money for the drinks.

Self-made alcoholic drink of the Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan - braga

One of the most known words related to the Soviet-Afghan conflict is, perhaps, this one - braga. It is sort of a semifinished rum-like alcoholic drink which was produced by the Soviet soldiers manually. The recipe is incredibly simple - all you need is yeast, water and sugar, in that order. The sugar was a rare item, at least in good quantity and has to be substituted with whatever possible - from raising to halva or even tomato paste.

The beaty of this liquid is the simplicity of its preparation - you just need to mix everything together in the water container and leave in warm environment for two weeks. Soldiers would usually hide it in BTR or in the tents. Alternatively, the mixture could be placed into a flask and buried in the sand.

Alcohol in Afghanistan

The drink was far from high end beverage, it was bitter and hard to consume. More experienced soldiers, usually the ones from countryside, knew how to make a distiller and would use braga to actually produce better spirit. But, of course, hiding a distiller in a tent was not a simple task so it was not a very common practice.

Factory grade liquors

Out of all drinks, soldiers and officers mostly preferred factory produced sealed bottles of vodka. It was a complete rarity and a deficit - both expensive and unobtainable in large quantities. Officially it could be purchased in the military garrison shops, but there was a hard cap on allowed purchases.

Alcohol in Afghanistan
Original Soviet vodka from my collection

It was possible to get vodka and other bottled drinks through contraband, which was usually done by the pilots of the transport aviation. These guys would be going to the Soviet mainland at least twice a week, so could always go to regular grocery store there.

All these limitations and restrictions lead to an incredibly high price for a bottle of vodka - up to 50 rubles. In comparison, a government regulated price in the shops was around 3,5 rubles per liter bottle. In such conditions no soldier could afford vodka for himself - everything was reserved for officers, though even for them it was not cheap and the consumption was usually limited to celebratory occasions.

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