The Politics of Vodka & The Best American Vodkas


The Politics of Vodka

by, Kyle Calian

The last year has been filled with a lot of action for Russia, from the events in Sochi to riots and boycotts, and now probably the biggest topic of the year  – the political climate in Ukraine.

Here in the United States we’ve seen a lot of different reactions to the turmoil. For example:

“A Tennessee liquor store owner says he’s fed up with Russia’s antics, so he’s banning Russian vodka from his shelves. Bob Gilbertson, owner of Bob’s Liquors in Knoxville, says he’s not happy about Russia’s recent and aggressive involvement in Ukraine over Crimea. He has decided to sell his Russian vodka at cost to get rid of it. ” (via Fox17)

Russia is known for its long history of vodka making and has been exporting the clear spirit for centuries.

“Through 1914, when Nicholas II instituted prohibition to aid mobilization for World War I, liquor-tax revenues made up some 25 percent to 40 percent of all state income, enough to support one of the world’s largest armies and the upkeep of the Romanovs’ opulent palaces. Even into the 1970s and 1980s, vodka revenues constituted a quarter of the Soviet Union’s revenue.” (via NYTimes)

So in an effort to send a message with the American dollar to the Russian politicians about their morally impermissible viewpoints and actions, Dan Savage, famous NY Times column writer, proposed a boycott of Russian vodka.

Last August, bar owners were urging people to drink American-made alcohol instead saying that this was first step toward pressuring Russia to change its policies toward gay people. At least 200 New York bars and restaurants are participating in the boycott, which has spread to many gay bars across North America in the wake of a newly passed Russian law that bans the so-called “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” (via HuffPost).

Here are the pros and cons of the boycott:

The Pros according to Alexander Abad-Santos (via theWire):

“If movements don’t put a company in financial trouble and aren’t convincing enough to change consumers’ ways, do boycotts achieve anything at all? McDonnell explained that boycotts that gain media attention spur the most philanthropic reaction from companies, but she also points out that the reaction doesn’t necessarily have to be related to the boycott itself. “Companies increase their charitable activity after they’re boycotted to dilute the negative press they’re seeking by providing positive press themselves” she told me. And further: “firms are likely to react with a larger increase in prosocial claims when the boycott is more threatening (it receives more media attention),” her study reads. The bottom line: companies don’t really have an incentive to act unless a boycott gets media attention.

If you take into account that Stoli’s CEO is now publicly announcing he and the company are allies of gay rights, McDonnell’s theorem works. And there’s further proof. Here’s a look at the Google trend results for searches on the terms “gay rights Russia” (blue), “gay vodka” (red) and “gay boycott” (yellow):

…the very fact that we’ret talking about Russian gay rights months before the 2014 Olympics is an achievement.”

The Cons according to Mark Schrad (via NYTimes):

1. First, quaffing Absolut, Belvedere or Ketel One instead of Stolichnaya is a symbolic action, like changing one’s profile picture on Facebook or sharing a YouTube video, that changes little for Russia’s gay men and lesbians.

2. Second, a boycott lets Mr. Putin portray the American boogeyman as intent on violating Russian sovereignty. From the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in 1974, which sanctioned the Soviet Union for restricting Jewish emigration, to the Magnitsky Act last year, which punished Russian officials allegedly complicit in the death of a fraud investigator, the United States has a long history of ineffective meddling in Russian affairs. Most political scientists agree that sanctions rarely bring about desired results and can undermine the effectiveness and credibility of domestic opposition groups.

3. Third and most important, the Kremlin’s historic reliance on vodka revenues is largely over — making efforts to enforce the boycott ineffective and even cringeworthy. Many bars have stopped serving Smirnoff, which was produced in the United States, not Russia, as far back as the 1930s and is now made by a British conglomerate, Diageo.

In my opinion, any boycott that becomes media worthy is going to at least focus people on the issue and make them aware. We haven’t seen any big coverage in regards to the military actions in the Ukraine and any potential boycotts on Russian imports quite yet, but i’m sure we’ll see some soon. Russia is still quite conservative on the issue, 2 out of 3 people, are still against any homosexuality and the other concern that Mark Schrad expresses is about ” the extent that Russia becomes more xenophobic and reactionary, its gay community will be seen as only more alien — the opposite of tolerance and integration” (via NYTimes)

I suppose the best thing to do anyway would be support all the new local, domestic brands being made here in the United States. Its better for the environment and the economy to purchase locally produced goods.

I highly recommend the following:


Square One Organic Vodka
Distilled from Organic Rye
Novato, CA

Prarie Organic Spirits
Distilled for Midwestern Corn from Three Farms

Near Dawson, Minnesota

AnestasiA Vodka Scores 94 BTI Exceptional

AnestasiA Vodka
Distilled from Northwestern Grain with Cascade Mountain Water
Bend, Oregon

Rogue Single Malt Vodka 
Distilled Vintage Vodka from 2007 Oregon Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir
Portland, Oregon