I’ll confess that I was a bit surprised when I learned that the Governor of New Hampshire ordered state liquor stores to pull all Russian vodka and other liquors off of the shelves to further punish the Russian economy over Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Texas Governor Greg Abbott took a slightly milder approach, merely asking retailers to voluntarily do the same. Soon there were bars all over the country following suit on their own, removing Russian brands of liquor from the premises and replacing them with Ukrainian brands. Individual drinkers went on social media, posting videos of themselves dumping vodka down sinks or into toilets. Or at least they thought they were dumping bottles of Russian booze in some cases. As the Free Beacon points out this weekend, you need to read the labels on the bottles carefully or you may be “sanctioning” the wrong countries by accident, assuming you want to participate in this rather dubious protest. (More on that in a moment.) A lot of liquor brands have names that may sound Russian, but they’re actually made in other countries.
Before you pour out that bottle of Smirnoff or Stoli, keep in mind that neither is made in Russia. The truth is, Americans don’t actually drink a lot of Russian-made vodkas.
Smirnoff began selling vodka in the United States in 1934—it’s first distillery was in Bethel, Conn. Still the largest-selling spirit in the country, Smirnoff (owned by beverage conglomerate Diageo) is based out of Plainfield, Ill. There’s video, meanwhile, of bartenders dumping out Stolichnaya in solidarity with the Ukrainian people. It’s true, Stoli was the first Russian-made vodka sold in America (as part of a product swap with Pepsi in 1968), but today’s Stolichnaya comes from Latvia, a loyal member of NATO.
“There is not a lot of Russian-made vodka in the U.S. marketplace,” said Lisa Hawkins of the Distilled Spirits Council. “Imports of Russian vodka to the United States are down nearly 79 percent since 2011, and accounted for only 1.3 percent of total vodka imports in 2021.”
The biggest selling brands of vodka (in America) that are actually made in Russia are Imperia, Beluga, Organika, and Russian Standard. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a bottle of any of them. On the rare occasions when we get vodka, it’s usually Grey Goose. which is made in France. Those four Russian brands of vodka only accounted for $18.5 million of the staggering $7.3 billion that Americans spent on vodka in 2021.
It’s worth noting that this brouhaha is already having an impact on the industry. Stolichnaya vodka announced today that it’s rebranding and will only be known as Stoli. Their CEO further announced that they will go through the entire list of ingredients used in making their product to ensure that none of them are sourced in Russia. The brand will now emphasize its Latvian roots.
As I mentioned above, however, I wanted to take a moment to consider whether this vodka-dumping campaign is really having any sort of impact on the Russian economy. Don’t get me wrong. If it makes you feel better to flush some expensive booze down the toilet, have at it. It’s your money. But at least consider the underlying economic realities.
First of all, if you happen to have a bottle of Beluga or Russian Standard on your shelf at home, dumping it down the sink will produce a negative economic impact on no one but yourself. The booze is already paid for. Your money went to the liquor store, a part of which went to their distributor who in turn paid the Russian exporters originally. You can’t reel that money back in.
If you stop buying your former favorite Russian brand, the only people you are directly hurting are your local liquor store owners. If the booze is sitting on their shelves, it is similarly already paid for. It’s true that if enough people stop buying those brands, they will stop ordering new shipments and that effect may eventually be felt by the Russian distilleries, but it’s going to take a while for the damage to trickle back uphill. And as we already noted, they don’t sell all that much of it in America to begin with.
So to recap, if you want to flush your own bottle of Russian vodka down the toilet, you are free to do so, but you’re mostly just engaging in virtue signaling that will wind up costing you money when you have to go out and grab a replacement bottle of presumably Ukrainian (or at least non-Russian) vodka. And if enough of you decide to participate in this ritual, the most immediate financial damage you manage to inflict will be felt in your local economy, not that of Russia. So this is just a word to the wise. Read the labels carefully and consider who your real target is before you start smashing up your home bar.