Issue 119, January 2019.
Back by popular demand – the art of pouring vodka! Here’s a little piece that we originally published in 2013. Locals often don’t even realise just how many rules there are to pouring vodka in Ukraine. At least, not until you start sharing the rules from this list! Try it – they’ll start recognising the rules and add their own that we haven’t even listed. We’ve added new “rules” since we first published. Have we forgotten any? Be sure to tell us at!
Every culture seems to have its own nuances that require a native’s touch to be perfected. These things seem natural for a local, who can be easily offended when an outsider ‘sins’ when performing the art form. In Ukraine, there is an art to pouring vodka.
For guests to Ukraine, here is our expanded guide to pouring vodka.
1. If you don’t want a fight, get the name right. In Ukraine, it’s called ‘horilka’, not vodka. Unless you’re drinking home brew – then it’s ‘samohonka’. Vodka is the Russian (and Polish) word.
2. To not offend, drink with a friend. While you probably weren’t thinking about it anyways, this is simply a no-go in Ukraine.
3. To not be rude, always have food. Even penny-pinching university students won’t buy a bottle unless they can afford the cheapest black bread or anything else that’s edible to go along with it.
4. For it to taste like gold, make it cold. This will numb the taste, so only chill (not freeze) if you are drinking premium horilka. 
5. To prevent conflicts, you just shouldn’t mix. Horilka should be done in shots, although Ukrainians will allow foreigners to mix if you must. You will be judged though…
6. If you pour, you’re in for more. That’s right, if you pour the first shot you will be pouring the rest of the night, regardless of how many bottles or how many locations are visited.
7. To make it right, make sure it’s light. Yes, you are responsible for ensuring that nobody has a hangover the next day. Be sure to pour with a “light hand”. And good luck with that.
8. Don’t be a ghost, be ready to toast. There is a whole toasting tradition in Ukraine, but that’s an article for another day. Feel free to “volun-tell” someone to toast, but always be ready to fill in. 
9. The others go first, or else you’ll get cursed. The person pouring is always the last person to have their glass filled. No exceptions. 
10. If you spill, you might get killed. Well, probably not. But if you want to keep your friends, don’t make a habit out of it. 
11. One hand to pour or you’re out the door. This adds a degree of difficulty to all of the following rules.
12. If it’s in the air, stay in your chair. Never. I repeat never pour a shot into a glass being held in the air. This may be the cardinal sin for foreigners.
13. Leave it in its place; you find some space. This is where the real ‘art’ comes from. I’ve had easier times navigating Lviv’s outrageous traffic than manoeuvring a bottle through mazes of dishes, glasses, and bottles. Remember Point #11.
14. You may be banned, if you use your backhand. So, to recap, the glass must be on the table, it shouldn’t be moved, you pour one-handed, and you mustn’t spill. Oh yeah, for the artistic score, you can’t pour backhanded either.
15. If it’s in the glass, it shouldn’t last. So, you’ve mastered the fine art of the pour and you think you’ve got it covered. Not at all! Now it’s time to work on your timing. Begin by ensuring that horilka in the glass doesn’t last. You don’t want it to breathe now, do you?
16. Unless agreed, the same for you and me. So, you’re near the bottom of the bottle. Be sure that everyone gets the same amount. If there are 12 drops left and four of you drinking, you do the math. But you wouldn’t be an artist if you left 12 drops left after your last pour…
17. To not be disowned, don’t drink alone. Never pour a shot for only yourself. Ever.
18. You’ll look like a dweeb if you pour less than three. Unless you’re at a funeral. Than two is acceptable.
19. It goes on the floor, when there’s no more. No empty bottles on the table. You don’t want to remind the guests just how light your hand is, do you?
20. No one can run, until it’s all done. Make sure everyone finishes their shots before they leave. And make sure the bottle is finished. If you’ve perfected the art of the ‘light hand’, this should be easy.
You’ll notice the finest artists of the craft. They’re the ones that always pour at all of your big events. So, until you’re there, shchaslyvo miy druh (good luck, my friend) and budmo (cheers)!
-- Lee Reaney