Vodka, a drink that was popularized in the West by James Bond and that has long been one of Russia’s most visible exports, is now the target of international anger over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In New Hampshire, where liquor and wine are sold through state-run stores, Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, announced on Saturday the removal of “Russian-made and Russian-branded spirits from our liquor and wine outlets until further notice.” In Ohio, where the state contracts with private businesses to sell liquor, Gov. Mike DeWine, also a Republican, announced a halt to state purchases and sales of Russian Standard Vodka.
L. Louise Lucas, a top Democrat in the Virginia State Senate, is calling for “the removal of all Russian vodka and any other Russian products” from Virginia’s nearly 400 state-run Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority stores.
And Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, wrote on Twitter, “Dump all the Russian vodka and, alongside ammo and missiles, send the empty bottles to Ukraine to use for Molotov cocktails.”
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Canada’s most populated province, announced on Friday that it would remove “all products produced in Russia” from its more than 600 stores. Similar removals were underway in the provinces of Manitoba and Newfoundland, Reuters reported.
Boycotts of highly visible imports during times of conflict are nothing new.
In 2003, for example, France’s opposition to the United States-led military action in Iraq led some American politicians to boycott French wine and try to rename French fries as “freedom fries” (even though the dish probably originated in Belgium).
And just as in earlier efforts, boycotting Russian vodka may be more symbolic than strategic.
Vodka has a long history in Russian culture, with The Times once describing it as “an inseparable part of Russian social life.” Colorless and odorless, it can be combined with countless types of mixers to make a wide array of concoctions. That versatility helped it take hold in the United States market, leading to a fierce competition among vodka makers from various countries.
But while 76.9 million nine-liter cases of vodka were sold in the United States in 2020 — generating nearly $7 billion in revenue for distillers, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, an industry trade group — Russia’s share of the market isn’t as large as popular imagination may suggest.
Russia accounted for a little more than 1 percent of the dollar amount of vodka imported into the U.S. in 2017, Thrillist reported, citing data from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
France — whose vodkas include Grey Goose, Cîroc, Gallant and MontBlanc — accounted for about 39 percent of total vodka import value, the most of any country, Thrillist reported. Sweden, with vodkas like Absolut and DQ, accounted for about 18 percent. The other top importers were the Netherlands (17 percent), Latvia (10 percent), Britain (5 percent) and Poland (5 percent).
In Pennsylvania, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Saturday, “true Russian brands are hard to find.”