Kazakhs are relatively big drinkers despite of the Muslim prohibition on alcohol. In Kazakhstan men mostly drink vodka. Straight. Cognac is considered a ladies drink. Kazakhstan makes its own version. Alcohol is regarded as the glue of friendship. Toasts are features of big events and declining a drink is considered rude. An evening is not considered complete until many bottles have been finished.

Vodka is the most commonly consumed alcoholic drink in Kazakhstan followed by beer, sweet wine and sweet champagne. Kazakhs have a long tradition of drinking “koumiss” (fermented mare's milk). Kazakhs and Kyrgyz like a thick, yeasty, slightly fizzy concoction called bozo, made from boiled fermented millet or other grains. Turkmen, Kazakh and Karakalpak nomads like shubat (fermented camel’s milk). Camel’s milk can be fermented because it has a high sugar content. [Source: advantour]

Linebrew is said to be Kazakhstan’s best beer. Champansky — sparkling wine from either Russia or Kazakhstan — is very sweet and very cheap, costing about three or four dollars for a bottle with a plastic cork. “Tastier than the worst French Champagne it is a common and affordable substitute for pricier imports.” [Source:Ersatz Expat,]

The problems of teenage alcoholism and heavy drinking are serious problems in Kazakhstan. According to the statistics, Kazakhstan citizens start smoking at the age of 6-7 and try alcohol when they are 10-12. People excessively consuming alcohol are aged from 25 to 40. [Source: Vladimir Prokopenko, Tengri News, November 12, 2012]


Kazakhs, Mongolians and other Central Asians like to drink koumiss, an alcoholic drink made from fermented mare's milk with salt added. Koumiss (also spelled kumys, kumis, and kumiss) is a sour, bitter-tasting milky drink, with bits of brown horse-milk fat floating it in it, made by adding yeast cultures to a mare's milk mixture. Ordinary koumiss has an alcoholic content of three percent—less than beer, which is generally four to six percent and less than wine, which is generally 12.5 to 14.5 percent. Koumiss is called airag in Mongolia and is regarded as the Mongolian national drink. The word koumiss is of Turkic origin. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, July 19, 2002]

Kazakhs like to say that koumiss makes your eyes sharper, your feet stronger and your soul younger. Generally made in the summer, koumiss is the traditional beverage the Kyrgyz, Mongols and Kazakhs. To make it: 1) fresh horse milk or camel milk is stored in leather churns; 2) yeast is added; 3) then the mixture is stirred continuously, heated and fermented fore three or four days until it is ready to drink. Koumiss contains a little alcohol and it is very hard to get drunk off it. Kazakhs and Kyrgyz regard it as a healthy drink: full of protein, minerals, vitamins and sugar. They have been fond of it since ancient times. ~

Koumiss is an acquired taste that many Westerners don’t go for. The taste of koumiss has been described as "across between buttermilk and champagne" with a “tang reminiscent of good pickled brine” or a strong smoked gouda and is said to be high in vitamin C. Hillary Clinton tried some when she visited Central Asia . She said it tasted like yoghurt. Other have said it tastes like “stomach bile.” Its white color is equated with purity.

Kazakhs like to say that koumiss makes your eyes sharper, your feet stronger and your soul younger, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz also like to drink bozo, a frothy drink made from boiled and fermented millet or other grain. Kazakhs, Turkmen and Karakalpak nomad like to drink shubat, fermented camel's milk. Camel’s milk can be fermented because it has a high sugar content.

Kazakhstanis, Central Asia’s Biggest Drinkers

People in Kazakhstan — mostly Kazakhs and Russians — are first place in alcohol abuse in Central Asia and the world’s seventh biggest consumers of vodka. Director of Kazakhstan National Center for Healthy Lifestyle Zhamilya Battakova told “According to the World Health Organization, we are indeed in the first place in Central Asia. Judging from this year’s reports, 10-12 liters of pure spirit fall per each citizen in Kazakhstan. In Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan this value is 2-3 times lower,” Battakova said. [Source: Vladimir Prokopenko, Tengri News, November 12, 2012]

Vladimir Prokopenko wrote in the Tengri News, “According to the latest clinical survey, 35 percent of Kazakhstan’s population drink alcohol and 17 percent of them abuse it. According to Battakova the government is working to decrease consumption of alcohol. The customs regulations of the CU (Customs Union) countries will help this strive by increasing the excise tax on alcohol. Based on that, there is a plan that 0.5 liter of vodka will cost up to 1,500 tenge ($10) in Kazakhstan.

“Meanwhile, there are also some positive tendencies, according to Bakytzhan Nuraliyev, representative of the State Scientific-Practical Center of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Narcology of Kazakhstan Healthcare Ministry. He believes that alcohol addiction has been decreasing among teenagers in the last two years in Kazakhstan. One of the reasons believed to be behind this positive dynamics is that mosques are working with young people and forming up their negative attitude to alcohol.

Nevertheless, according to the expert, the problem of teenagers’ alcohol and drug addiction is still acute in Kazakhstan. Nuraliyev said that the youngest registered drug addict taking drugs intravenous is only 5 years old. According to the statistics, Kazakhstan citizens start smoking at the age of 6-7 and try alcohol when they are 10-12. People excessively consuming alcohol are aged from 25 to 40. [Source: Vladimir Prokopenko, Tengri News, November 12, 2012]

As for female alcohol abuse, its rate has reached and equaled to the male alcoholism, according to the expert. “This is happening because women are taking too much on their shoulders: work, family, etc. Women are more prone to alcoholism than men. Female alcoholism is progressing much faster. Men prefer going to a bar to get drunk and maybe even pickup a fight. While women are more prone to drinking alone, at home and this is the very reason for solitary drinking,” Nuraliyev explained. According to him, 35 percent of all Kazakhstan people who regularly consume alcohol are women.

Drinking Customs in Kazakhstan

1) Young people should not drink alcohol in front of old people. 2) If alcoholic beverages are served, expect a fair amount of toasting. 3) If a guest is offered alcohol or koumiss (fermented mare’s milk), and they don’t drink alcohol or don’t like the taste, they should at least sip a to bit show gratitude, otherwise, the host will be unhappy. 4) To avoid getting completely wasted, some Westerners take a shot and then spit it into the chase cup.

When served tea, your cup will often only be filled halfway. To fill the cup would mean that your host wanted you to leave. You will be given a bowl to drink broth or tea. When you do not want any more, turn your bowl upside-down as an indication.

Koumiss (slightly fermented mare’s milk) is usually ladled out of a large container and served in pint-size bowls. It is often handed around in a communal bowl. One must drink a lot of it to get high. It is sometimes poured from glass to glass several times to make it thick like whipped cream. Before drinking it Mongolians dip their ring finger in it and smear some of their forehead and flick it in the four compass directions as a sign of respect to airag itself. Some Mongolians drink ten liters of the stuff a day. Describing a herder drinking koumiss, Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “He lifts a bowl to his mouth, drinks deeply and practically belches an emphatic, ‘Ahhhh!’ He licks his lips...Then he does it all over again.”

Russian Drinking Customs

Meals are often repeatedly interrupted by toasts, speeches and shots of vodka. Russians like to make lots of toasts. They make toast to your health, to your mother, to the moon, to Russia, to America, to world peace, to beautiful women, anything. They toast a birth in a ritual called "washing a baby" in which a military medal or something else of value is placed into a glass of vodka and passed around the table.

Russians typically begin a meal with a toast and shot of vodka downed in one gulp. To take a drink before the first toast is the height of uncouthness, Toasts are then repeated through the meal and afterwards. The word “droog” ("friend") comes up often. Foreigners are often asked to make a toast. It is a good idea to have one ready.

Russians often drink communally from the same cup or glass which is passed around. They often eat bread, snacks and other food when they drink, reportedly to keep them from getting too drunk. They don’t take kindly to people who don't join them for a drink. Refusing a drink can be quite difficult. To avoid getting completely wasted, some Westerners take a shot and then spit it into the chaser cup.

Vodka Drinking Customs

Vodka is often consumed straight and cold. It is swallowed in one gulp. No sipping allowed. Three glasses in a row — for starters. The night is not considered over until all the bottles of vodka are empty. Vodka is often consumed with a chaser, often juice. Many beer drinkers add a shot of vodka to their pints. During banquets, guests sometimes pour their vodka into their water glasses.

Traditionally the difference between a vodka and alcohol drinker was that the later waits until 5:00pm. Two-hour vodka lunches are popular with some people. Others drink vodka for breakfast. Sometimes it seems like the smell of stale vodka is on everyone's breath. Shops that sell vodka don't open until 2:00pm to keep workers from drinking it on the job and some people from drinking it all day.

A common superstition among vodka drinkers is not to eat after the first glass. But most Russians seems to ignore the custom and consume things like jellied meats, fish, salted gerkins and sauerkraut. A popular evening dish is vodka and water poured over a bowl of red berries. Many Russians become excited just by the thought of eating pelmeni (dumplings) with their vodka.

Non-Alcoholic Drinks in Kazakhstan

Kazakhs are big tea drinkers. Almost every meal is followed by tea. Kazakhs like tea with milk, salt, sugar and/or butter. This is how Tibetans, Mongolians and Kyrgyz drink their tea. In Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan people like green tea consumed straight without sugar from a bowl or a glass, not a cup. Black is popular among Russians.

Traditional nomadic and Central Asian drinks include kumys (koumiss, kumiss, slightly-fermented horse milk), dairy drinks such as shubat (made of camel milk) and ayran (made of cow milk). Kazakhs and Kyrgyz like to drink “bozo”, a frothy drink made from boiled and fermented millet or other grain.

Chinese Kazakhs drinks include milk and ewe’s milk. Tea enjoys an important position in their daily diet. They mainly consume brick tea and Fucha (a kind of fungus growing tea). Milk tea is made by adding milk into tea. Tea with goat's milk is popular. Kazakhs dip hard bread into it to make it edible. [Source: \=/]

Kazakhstan’s “Elixir of Life”

In 2010, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev ordered scientists in his country to find “the elixir of life!”. Two years on and $3 million later, a team highly-trained researchers presented the fruits of their effort: a bio-yoghurt called “Nar” that speeds up bowel movements. "Nar" means food or nourishment in the Kazakh language.

Dina Spector of Business Insider wrote: “Zhaqsybai Zhumalidov, a researcher at Nazarbaev University, claims that the concoction "will be able to improve the quality of life and prolong it," writes The Guardian. In other words, the product will help with digestion and improve overall health (which makes sense based on the known health benefits of yogurt), but does not actually extends one's life. [Source: Dina Spector, Business Insider, November 6, 2012 ^^^]

“The discovery was announced at the second International Conference on Regenerative Medicine and Qualitative Longevity, which is held by the university's Life Sciences department. reported that the “nar” will resemble a liquid yogurt drink and will improve digestion and the absorption of nutrients. The government news agency, Kazinform, also reported that those at the conference had the opportunity to taste the “symbiotic bioproduct.” ^^^

“We assume "symbiotic bioproduct" means "probiotic," which refers to beneficial bacteria found in yogurt that many think is good for digestion. Zhumalidov's bizarre request was prompted in 2010 when a member of the Kazakh Parliament suggested that the leader, then 70, stay in power for another 10 years. To this, Zhumalidov responded: "I'm willing to go on until 2020, just find me an elixir.” No word yet on what's actually in the drink, or when "Nar" will be hitting grocery store shelves. ^^^

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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