Though Russian-made vodka represents less than 1 percent of U.S. vodka consumption, many bars, restaurants, and liquor stores are grappling with what to do with the crystal spirit following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked state agencies to support Ukraine, specifically ordering them “review contracts to identify any tax dollars that might be spent buying Russian goods or services,” according to the Hill.
Virginia ABC, the state alcohol agency that runs about 400 stores, responded by cleaning their shelves of the Russian-made crystal spirit. In a Facebook post, the agency said that it would not remove vodkas with Russian names, like Stolichnaya and Smirnoff, which are produced elsewhere.
Virginia will immediately say goodbye to Beluga, Hammer & Sickle, Imperia, Mamont, Organika, Russian Standard, and ZYR.
Meanwhile, several D.C. restaurants are voluntarily removing Russian-made spirits and beers from their menus this week to stand in solidarity with Ukraine.
Knead Hospitality + Design will no longer serve Russian vodkas across its D.C. portfolio, which includes Wharf martini bar The Grill. And a portion of proceeds from every punch cocktail sold at its restaurants (Succotash, Gatsby, Mi Vida, Bistro du Jour, Mi Casa) will benefit UNICEF to help children in Ukraine.
Adams Morgan’s SpacyClould will pull both Baltika beers and Russian vodka from its shelves, too.
Instead of pouring its Russian-made vodka down the drain, Georgetown cocktail and caviar bar Apéro will donate all proceeds of the clear spirit to World Central Kitchen in support of José Andrés’s humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.
Apéro is one of the only D.C. bars that serves Beluga’s line of vodkas, made by Mariinsk Distillery in Siberia. Its Russian products were purchased well into last year, owner/sommelier Elli Benchimol tells Eater.
“Lets face it, besides hacking, the other thing Russians do well is ‘vodka,’ [so] we decided to sell it,” she says. “Although I don’t see many people ordering it, at least it will go towards helping the victims of this insanity.”
There’s no Russian caviar on-site, as “its sustainability and good practices cannot be verified,” she says.
Meanwhile, Caddies Bar and Grill in Bethesda announced that it will no longer purchase or serve Russian vodka. It has also changed the names of several cocktails, with the Moscow Mule becoming the Kyiv Mule; and the White Russian and Black Russian renamed the White Ukrainian and the Black Ukrainian. A portion of sales of those cocktails will go to the Ukrainian Children’s Emergency Relief Fund.
Less than 1 percent of the vodka consumed in the U.S. is made in Russia (more than half of it is made in the U.S.), making the move largely symbolic, according to CNN.
Virginia is considered a control state where the state has a monopoly over the wholesaling or retailing of some or all categories of alcoholic beverages, including operating state-run liquor stores. As such, the state of Virginia can choose which products to order and carry in their state-run liquor stores. Montgomery County also operates under a control model with liquor stores run by the county.
“Unlike Virginia and Montgomery County, D.C. is not a control state as it relates to alcoholic beverages. The wholesale and retail functions in the District of Columbia are entirely privately owned and operated. Along these lines, District wholesalers and retailers have the ability to stop carrying or ordering specific brands of alcoholic beverages,” an Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) spokesperson told Eater.