Is the “Russian” vodka you are boycotting really Russian?

My social media feeds are littered with reports and videos of bar owners and patrons dumping full bottles of vodka down Las Vegas sewers, New York dumpsters and — as I heard at the corner store yesterday – even the Chicago River. They are usually captioned with a message of support for Ukraine, indicating that they are ceremonially getting rid of vodka as a boycott against Russia.

Indeed, the history of Russia and vodka are deeply linked. The word “vodka” comes from the Slavic word “voda”, which means water. And while the drink’s specific site origin is unclear – Poland and Sweden also claim its invention – a Russian government policy encouraged the consumption of state-made vodka in the 1860s, which has made it the drink of choice for many people in the country. Since then, the term “Russian vodka” has apparently leaked out of the language.

But do the “Russian” vodka people really boycott Russians? In many cases, the answer is no.

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According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, less than 2% of the vodka imported into the United States comes from Russia. In fact, 98.3% of vodka imports come from countries like France, Latvia, Poland and Sweden.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted major vodka brands to issue statements clarifying the origins of their products. One of them is the Stoli group.

In a February 28 statement, Stoli said they “unequivocally condemn the military action and support the Ukrainian people.” Currently, the brand’s Instagram profile and website features a dove of peace in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

According to Stoli, his vodka brands and owner Yuri Shefler were “exiled from Russia almost two decades ago.”

“As the founder of the SPI group of companies, I have personally been persecuted by the Russian authorities,” Shefler said, “and I share the pain of Ukraine and its people.”

Damian McKinney, global CEO of Stoli Group, added that while the company has no business in Russia, it “does in Ukraine and many bordering countries.”

The statement continued: “Stoli Premium and Elit vodkas are made and bottled in Riga, Latvia. The brand is registered with the US TTB – Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau – as a product Latvian.”

Similarly, the famous brand of vodka Smirnoff, which is owned by the British company Diageo, is actually distilled and packaged in the United States. Absolut is from Sweden, Gray Goose is made in France, and Tito’s is still produced in Austin, Texas.

Oh, and if you’re worried about drinking a Moscow Mule, don’t be. The cocktail was actually invented in the United States by a Hollywood bartender in a New York hotel.

As for the name, Ronnie Heckman, the owner of Caddies at Bethesda, has a suggestion. Bar patrons can still order the same classic cocktail (vodka, ginger beer and lime), but it has a new name: the Kyiv Mule.

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