Supermarkets in Moscow sell alcohol - including beer - from 8.00 a.m. to 11 p.m. only. Bars and restaurants may serve drinks round the clock. Mind that in other regions of Russia the schedules may be different.
The law bans selling any alcohol - including beer - to persons under 18. If you look young, be ready to show your ID to the seller to prove your age.
Street drinking may result in 15 days of arrest and expulsion from the country. The bottle in a bag is not an excuse.
Drink-driving penalties include RUR 30,000 fine and revocation of driving licence for up to two years.
Mind that drinking alcohol with strangers may result in drugging and subsequent robbery.
Vodka and other strong alcohol
At inexpensive bars and restaurants vodka costs from around RUR 100 for a 50-millilitre shot, although some greedy owners reduce the dose to 40 millilitres. At supermarkets a half-litre bottle of vodka may not cost less than RUR 230 (the government imposed minimum.)
The Russians usually drink vodka neat, but bars and clubs offer various cocktails based on it.
Try also infused vodkas (nastoyki) such as khrenovukha (horseradish) or pertsovka (chili pepper and honey) and sweet vodka drinks with fruit or berry syrups (nalivki).
Some Russian households distil alcohol at home. These moonshines - called samogon in Russian - are not always safe. Make sure your hosts trust the producer before tasting such drinks.
Moscow is also a major market for praiseworthy brandies from Armenia and Georgia, look for distinguished brands at high-end restaurants and supermarkets. Mind that the cheapest original brandies may not cost less than RUR 700 per bottle at supermarkets, while less expensive drinks may be nothing but coloured solutions of low-grade alcohol.
Various imported strong drinks are also widely available in Moscow, but at rather high prices.
Restaurants and cafes serve vodka and other strong alcohol in shots, decanters or bottles. Ask waiters to bring your vodka well chilled.
To look like a Russian, use brined gherkins or cured herring to chase each shot of vodka.
When toasting, the Russians do not usually say “Na zdorovie!” (To health!”) as many foreign sources claim. More often, they say “Budem zdorovy!” (Let us be healthy!”) or just “Budem!” (Let’s be!”)
Russia is not famous for its vineyards, but some regions produce tolerable wines. Reportedly, even in Siberia a team of enthusiasts launched a successful Merlo production facility using local grapes. Nevertheless, imported wines dominate the market in Moscow so far.
If you need more than just to add some alcohol to your blood, choose wines that cost more than RUR 500 for a bottle at supermarkets or over RUR 300 for a glass at restaurants.
Sparkling wine (Shampanskoe) is a must on the New Year Eve, at wedding ceremonies and other festive events. Mind that many Russian fizzes are very sweet.
While plain lagers are still most popular among the Russians, "tasty" craft beers have paved the way to the Moscow's market too.
Imported brands are rather expensive here while licensed analogues may materially differ from those brewed in other countries, though not necessarily for the worse.
Prices range from around RUR 35 for a half-litre bottle at supermarkets to several hundred roubles for a half-litre glass at pubs and restaurants. (Half litre is somewhat more than the US pint but less than the Imperial pint.)
Many small shops sell draft beer to take away at very reasonable prices. Though not all of them are small. Beru Vykhodnoy (I take a day off) store at 79 Prospekt Mira offers over 3,000 beers including 200 of them on tap, according to Russian Book of Records.
Most pubs in Moscow offer extensive menus and wine lists along with variety of beers and look more like decent restaurants rather than just boozers.
Traditions suggest that beer should be consumed with dry fish or crawfish boiled with herbs, but nowadays many Russians prefer sausages, steaks or burgers.
The locally marketed brands mentioned below are our editors’ picks based on their own multi-year experience. We never practice so called native advertising.
Among hundreds of vodka brands marketed in Moscow, we prefer Khortitsa (Хортиця) named after an island on the Dnieper River in Ukraine. Its varieties - including Classic, Silver Freshness, Platinum and other - do not differ much from each other in terms of quality.
Try also Zelenaya Marka (Зеленая марка) - which means Green Mark - sold in simply designed bottles stressing drinkers’ affinity to common people.
Several distilleries in Russia continue to produce Stolichnaya, but it is not a leading vodka brand here now, and its quality is not steady.
Armenian Ararat brandies are somewhat cheaper but not worse than many famous French cognacs, in our humble opinion.
Five- or six-year old Lezginka (Лезгинка) brandy distilled in Dagestan, a republic in the North Caucasus, may also be a good choice if your budget is limited.
Russian winemaking industry is yet to find its feet. Chances to buy a bottle of good locally produced wine are close to zero so far, and we cannot recommend any Russian wine brand. Stick to imported brands you know, to be on the safe side.
On the bright side, Russian breweries meet beer geeks’ demands since recently. Among widely available brands, our choice is Khamovniki (Хамовники) – a line ranging from simple lagers to Irish-like stout.
See also our Dining Out Section.