Dumping Russian Vodka is Stupid

It might feel good but it has zero impact on Putin.

We’ve been seeing a lot of stories like this over the last couple of days:

As world governments step up their penalties against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, businesses and consumers are protesting the country with sanctions of their own.

A growing range of Russian businesses, organizations and individuals are facing boycotts over their country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Governments and alcohol regulators across North America have either proposed or enacted boycotts against Russian vodka.

The governors of both Utah and New Hampshire this past week ordered Russian-branded and Russian-made vodka to be pulled from the shelves in government-run liquor stores. In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine moved to halt the purchase and sale of all vodka made by Russian Standard, a Russian-owned maker that sells its liquor under two names in the state.

One of the world’s largest alcohol buyers, Canada’s Liquor Control Board of Ontario, said it’s removing all products made in Russia from its 679 stores.

This is cute and allows people to feel like they’re somehow doing something to show solidarity with Ukraine. But, of course, dumping out or refusing to re-sell vodka you’ve already purchased does nothing to punish Russia. They already have the money!

Even worse, most of the vodka in question isn’t actually Russian.

Some establishments are confused about what products actually come from Russia. A Vermont ski resort bar worker was not alone in pouring Stolichnaya down the drain. But as Mark Schrad, an associate professor of political science at Villanova University, notes, the Stoli vodka Americans drink is actually made in Latvia. A boycott in 2013, ahead of the Sochi Olympics, also targeted the distiller.

“The only Russian brands that you might find on the store shelves are Russian Standard and Green Mark vodkas, yet even their sales in North America make up only a minuscule amount of their global sales,” said Schrad, who wrote the 2014 book Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy and the Secret History of the Russian State. “So even if you start mixing your martinis with Absolut or Ketel One instead of Russian Standard, it is really not going to make much of a difference, especially when compared to some of the big, country-level economic sanctions that have been levied on Russia.”

I make my martinis with gin, as the good lord intended. The only reason I stock vodka at all is for Bloody Marys and I’ve never owned a bottle of Russian Standard or Green Mark. Indeed, I’m not sure I’ve even seen those on the shelf.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, National Security, Russia
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. lounsbury says:

    And as you note, mostly not actually Russian

  2. CSK says:

    They’ll take my vodka martini from me when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

    4
  3. Jen says:

    My preferred vodka is Chopin, which is Polish. I also like Grey Goose, which is French.

    I’m with CSK, I do love a vodka martini with a blue-cheese stuffed olive.

    1
  4. If only there was some clever renaming we could do to make people feel better. Alas, freedomka doesn’t have the same ring as “freedom fries.”

    13
  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    I make my martinis with gin, as the good lord intended.

    Yup, this is a major peeve of mine, if only because words mean things, they have definitions. A martini is already a defined, specific cocktail, not synonym for “any cocktail.” It is made with gin and vermouth, stirred with ice and then strained out, and garnished with either an olive or a twist.

    If it is made with vodka instead of gin, it is now a Kangaroo Cocktail.

    If it is shaken instead of stirred, dampening the flavor by ultra chilling it and adding ice shards (which can be a good thing for cheaper gin, which was mostly what was available in the 20th century), it is now called a Bradford.

    If one decides to forego the herbal notes the olive or lemon rind brings to the cocktail, and substitute cocktail onions for a more umami-forward cocktail, it is now a Gibson.

    Now go to your local watering hole, order a Bradford, Gibson, or Kangaroo Cocktail, and get ran out for being too damned pretentious.

    11
  6. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    My Tuesday DND group has been busy coming up with the best renamed cocktails.

    White Russians are now Khaki Cossacks. Moscow Mules are Kyiv Klydesdales (sp).

    6
  7. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Well, remember America lost the Battle for the Soul of the French Fries anyway.

    1
  8. CSK says:

    @Jen:
    Sister!!!!!!

    Chopin is excellent. Ditto Grey Goose. As for bleu-cheese stuffed olives…the best.

    2
  9. @Neil Hudelson:

    if only because words mean things, they have definitions.

    Hey, man, let’s not get all technical about terms. 😉

    7
  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    Interesting revelation of just how little we buy from Russia.

    3
  11. JohnSF says:

    Dumping it is silly.
    Just don’t buy any more.

    Save what you have to toast 1)the removal from office and 2)the death, of Vladimir Putin.
    Two events which may end up not being separated by that much.

    Drink gin, as was god’s plan!

    3
  12. CSK says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    You could probably get away with ordering a Gibson, but Bradford and Kangaroo are new to me.

    This past Thanksgiving weekend, I was at a restaurant in Myrtle Beach. I ordered a vodka martini. The bartender came over and, somewhat abashed, asked me how to make it.

  13. Kathy says:

    Around my late years in high school, available vodka was either Oso Negro (low quality) and Wyborowa (good quality). Then one day someone got their hands on a bottle of genuine Soviet Russian export Stolichnaya.

    When mixed with orange juice, I couldn’t tell them apart.

    1
  14. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Kathy:

    It’s all made the same place anyway. Grey Goose (‘French’), Chopin (“Polish”), Belvedere (“Polish”, McCormicks (Sewer), etc., all made in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Shipped to its home country and then distributed back.

    You and I could actually start a ‘premium’ vodka company today with one phone call to this distillery. There was even an NPR-type podcast that did this (maybe planet money, maybe the sporkful). They called, asked for a new vodka that tasted like a cross between grey goose and stoli, or something like that, and a week later they had their product, sans labeling or a distribution agreement.

    1
  15. CSK says:

    @Kathy:
    Wyborowa I’ve seen (and probably drank on occasion). Oso Negro is a new one on me. Black bear?

  16. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    Oso Negro was a local brand, I think. They also sold gin under that name.

    @Neil Hudelson:

    That’s interesting. There’s actually a lot of that in food, drink, and pharmaceuticals.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Neil Hudelson: I know that MGP mass produces a lot of American whiskeys but I wasn’t aware that was the case with vodkas. Gray Goose seems to in fact be made in France and Belvedere in Poland (I find the notion of “premium” vodka comical since it’s essentially tasteless.)

    2
  18. Scott says:

    I tend to despise these cheesy performative antics. I guess it provides a way for people to express their opinions. But there are downside effects also.

    San Antonio rallies to support Ukraine through cheesecake at Laika Cheesecake & Espresso

    The war in Ukraine has brought different challenges to Web House Café & Bar owner Mischka Timofayev.

    Timofayev, who moved to the United States from his native Moscow in 1996, said he started receiving vague threats and calls for a boycott of his Beacon Hill business via social media messages over the weekend. Web House, which he opened in 2006, is mostly a neighborhood bar with the usual pub grub, but Timofayev serves a number of Russian dishes, including pelmeni, vareniki and borscht.

    All it takes is a good guy with a gun.

  19. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:
    I think it has to do more with the smoothness of the vodka.

    1
  20. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Kathy:

    My wife contends that there is no difference in vodkas, that they’re all the same, regardless of price. I have no opinion as I seldom have a vodka anything. Rather have bourbon, straight up w/o ice. Until we go to war with Kentucky, I’m safe.

    3
  21. Raoul says:

    I don’t see purpose of these types of efforts to punish Russia economically per se, it’s more a symbolic expression, like coloring your embassy blue and yellow. Whether these efforts of solidarity have any effect on you, well, your mileage will vary. Btw, the ABC in Va carries Russian Standard which a pretty good and pretty well priced vodka.

  22. Beth says:

    I’m a watermelon vodka girl. It’s the ambrosia of the gods as far as I’m concerned. Everyone else thinks I’m a lunatic, and which I agree. I prefer Three Olives watermelon vodka, but, really, it’s all perfect. Mixed with 7Up or Sprite. It’s heavenly. Sometimes, if I’m feeling extra rambunctious, I’ll throw in some Skittles or Swedish Fish.

  23. Kathy says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    In vegas I often have Kahlua and vodka (yes, I know it has a name), and sometimes white wine. The wine at the 4 Queens, a mid-level downtown casino is quite different from that at the Wynn or Venetian, luxury strip properties. The vodka and coffee liquor mix is exactly the same at all three.

  24. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    A martini is already a defined, specific cocktail, not synonym for “any cocktail.”

    If we’re getting pedantic about it, most martinis aren’t cocktails because there’s no bitters in them. Technically they’re slings. =)

    (When I make vodka martinis at home, I usually do add some bitters, which I highly recommend)

    2
  25. gVOR08 says:

    Very bad things are happening in Ukraine and worse are going to happen, so this spectator sport reaction strikes me as inappropriate. But it’s better than rooting for Russia and maybe it makes things awkward for Tucker Carlson and his ilk. But I keep being reminded of the question asked years ago when a Pope tried to intervene in some Middle East war, “How many divisions does the Vatican have?”

    1
  26. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Alcohol abuse?

    2
  27. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jen:

    Agreed. I have become very fond of Christiania lately as well.

    1
  28. inhumans99 says:

    @gVOR08:

    We both know that pretty much nothing shames folks like Dreher and Carlson, but I am willing to bet there are less folks out there today who would be comfortable being interviewed on the news wearing a I would rather be Russian than a Democrat shirts.

    I suspect that the manufacturer of that particular shirt has quietly pivoted and moved on to looking at other pithy comments that MAGA folks can wear on a shirt to own the liberals.

  29. Mu Yixiao says:

    @gVOR08:

    “How many divisions does the Vatican have?”

    Ten thousand times ten thousand is the host of the lord.
    In twice ten thousand chariots.

    😀

  30. Grommit Gunn says:

    If you are looking for US made vodka, may I suggest Tito’s? It is made in the United States and they are huge supporters of animal rescue.

    https://www.titosvodka.com/dogs/

    1
  31. de stijl says:

    There is a local Iowa brand of vodka that is super cheap and just disgusting. Hawkeye. It tastes like the smell you get off of rubbing alcohol evaporating.

    I really never use neutral spirits ever. I gave up on cocktails as they did not really suit me. In a bar, they work okay, but at home I just can’t be bothered. Too much work.

    At home I slowly sip straight bourbon or scotch. Occasionally rye – there is a good local version, Templeton. If I’m out and about, I drink beer.

    My personal cost – benefit analysis led me to sipping brown liquor. It works for me.

    No negative judgment on cocktails or neutral spirits used by other folks. Do what makes you happy.

  32. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    But, of course, dumping out or refusing to re-sell vodka you’ve already purchased does nothing to punish Russia.

    True, but dumping it out recoups the loss that the retailer would suffer from having to clear that stock at a steep discount/loss. And the people pouring it out get to virtue signal (and anger MR 😉 ). Think of dumping vodka as a positive expression of conspicuous consumption.

  33. James Joyner says:

    @de stijl: Actually, Templeton is one of the many sourced ryes from the Indiana distillery that @Neil Hudelson referenced above, the old Seagram’s plant that now goes by MGP, and playing up a fictional connection with Al Capone. I gather that they are going to start putting out their own hooch; it just takes years to get a new brand going.

  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: You can still have your vodka martini (although why anybody would drink a martini when they can drink lighter fluid instead is beyond me), just make it with Absolut. In fact, there’s an old ad about Absolut martinis.

    1
  35. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Jen and I will keep our vodka martinis, thank you very much.

    @inhumans99:
    You can still buy those t-shirt (and hoodies) through Amazon.

    1
  36. Mu Yixiao says:

    @CSK:

    Jen and I will keep our vodka martinis, thank you very much.

    As long as you’re not a heathen who makes his old-fashioneds with whiskey.

  37. de stijl says:

    I’m going to the grocery store today and have decided I am going buy the ingredients for making a White Russian.

    Why? No idea. Why not?

    I’m gonna watch The Big Lebowski. “Hey, man! I’ve got a beverage here!” Why not?

    I never use ice so I just filled up my ice trays an hour ago. The last batch sublimated away when I was not paying attention.

    It’s pretty damn easy: vodka, Kahlua, cream, ice. An idiot could do it. And, if I recall correctly, pretty damn tasty.

    2
  38. Jen says:

    @Mu Yixiao: I drink single malts from Scotland, so it’s whisky with no “e” for me, and neat, with just 1-2 drops of water–just enough to open it up a bit.

    I’m not really too much of a fan of most cocktails, since I don’t really tend to like sweeter drinks (which probably explains as well as anything my vodka martini, dirty or hot & dirty). Every so often I’ll have a Manhattan, with bourbon (Basil Hayden or Woodford Reserve), or if feeling festive a French 75.

  39. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Grind up that pendantry and shoot it directly in my veins. I didn’t know before, but now won’t soon forget a cocktail has bitters.

    1
  40. CSK says:

    @Jen:
    Sometimes, after a really good dinner, a small single malt or a really good bourbon or Irish whiskey just hits the spot.

    1
  41. de stijl says:

    @Jen:

    My problem with many cocktails is that they are are too tasty so I drink more.

    Straight brown liquor I sip. I know the amount. With cocktails, the amount is not always clear.

    Despite my misspent youth, I no longer want to get drunk.

    A slight buzz is okay, but anything more is no longer cool nor something I want to experience.

    I prefer being in control. I prefer not waking up to a hangover. I prefer not waking up and figuring out who I need to apologize to for my behavior or speech the night before.

    Getting drunk = bad outcome
    Getting slightly buzzed = good outcome.

    I’ve learned from past mistakes.

    1
  42. Just nutha says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: how about “victory vodka? “

  43. Just nutha says:

    @Sleeping Dog: War with Kentucky is coming sooner than you realize.

  44. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Just nutha:

    Then I need to bring in a few cases of Woodford Reserve.

  45. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    I know they have that at the NH State Liquor Store.

  46. Just nutha says:

    @Mu Yixiao: If you’re not using whiskey, what are you making them with? Or are you a “bourbon isn’t whiskey” guy?

  47. dazedandconfused says:

    It’s just virtue signaling.

    We have a Russian family in our neighborhood, moved in a couple years ago. It’s just one of an extended family which encompasses three households nearby. The Russians live that way, they form extensive family networks, a survival strategy which extends from the hard times of living in the USSR, and for Russia in general until fairly recently.

    They have a custom which we adopted. At the serving of dinner each seat is equipped with a frozen half-shot glass, and the best vodka is reserved for this moment (they, and we, consider that to be Grey Goose) is pulled from the freezer and each glass filled. The eating starts with a quick toast, the the half-shots are downed in one gulp, and everybody digs in.

    The buzz seems to kick in at about the right time, causing lively conversation at the appropriate time in the meal.

    1
  48. Sleeping Dog says:

    @CSK:

    So do I 🙂

  49. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha: Yeah, I’m not sure what @Mu Yixiao means, either. An Old Fashioned is made with American whiskey, usually bourbon these days but more traditionally with rye. There are Old Fashioned variants, including a very popular one substituting brandy, but they’re not true Old Fashioneds (although, apparently, it’s what you’ll get if you order one in Wisconsin).

    1
  50. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    I’m totally sure you do. 😀

  51. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: Aha! Mu lives in Wis. That must be what he’s talking about.

    1
  52. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    And just to finish off the discussion, a source (but I don’t remember the details) that I encountered holds that cocktails became popular during prohibition because so much of the hard liquor was so bad that it needed the extra ingredients of cocktails to make in drinkable.

  53. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Afternoon prayers to St. Elijah Craig are part of my daily routine.