Scott Pulls Russian-Owned Vodka Brands From Vermont Shelves | Off Message

Scott Pulls Russian-Owned Vodka Brands From Vermont Shelves


Mixing a vodka tonic - FILE: ZACHARY P. STEPHENS
  • File: Zachary P. Stephens
  • Mixing a vodka tonic
Updated on March 1, 2022.

Gov. Phil Scott has ordered state liquor stores to remove Russian-owned brands from their shelves in response to the “illegal and heinous Putin invasion of Ukraine.”

Brands that are labeled "Russian vodka" — such as Stoli and Smirnoff — but are not owned by Russian companies will continue to be sold.

The governor announced the move five days after Russian forces launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine that has earned worldwide condemnation and triggered global economic sanctions. Governors in other states, including Utah, Pennsylvania, Ohio and next-door New Hampshire have instituted similar bans.

“There are few things individual states can do alone, but I am heartened by the overwhelming and united response from the Free World in support of the people of Ukraine,” Scott said in a statement.

The move isn’t exactly expected to cripple the Russian economy. The 79 state-controlled liquor stores in Vermont only sell two brands from Russian owned distilleries — Russian Standard Original Vodka and Hammer + Sickle Vodka.

“They are not very popular brands,” said Scott’s spokesperson, Jason Maulucci.

There are about 750 bottles on the shelves in the stores, and they will be pulled down and returned to state warehouses. Of the $16 million in vodka sales in the state since July 1, the two Russian brands account for just $38,000, or less than half a percent, Maulucci said.

In addition to pulling them from the shelves, Scott ordered Wendy Knight, commissioner of the Department of Liquor and Lottery, to stop buying the Russian booze until further notice.

The state has not decided what to do with all the existing inventory, Maulucci said. The state owns all inventory in its warehouses and liquor stores until the moment of sale.

The state is also ceasing online sales of Russian-owned products, but the complete list of those brands, some of which are higher-end, was not immediately available.

“Vermonters are inspired by the bravery, courage, and sacrifice of those who seek nothing more than the freedom to determine their own futures,” Scott wrote in his statement. “The Ukrainian people are fighting for the same values we believe in, and we must come together to support them.”

Popular vodka brands founded in Russia, such as Smirnoff, are in fact no longer Russian-owned. Smirnoff, the world’s best-selling vodka brand, is owned by London-based global spirts conglomerate Diageo, Maulucci noted.
Signs at Beverage Warehouse in Winooski - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Signs at Beverage Warehouse in Winooski

The administration may announce other trade restrictions later this week, Maulucci said. “We’re trying to see what else we can do,” he said.

The private sector is also able to take steps to express its solidarity with the people of Ukraine, a sentiment Maulucci says the governor supports. Maulucci pointed to a WCAX story last week about a bartender at Magic Mountain ski resort in Londonderry pouring Stoli vodka down the drain.

Reached by phone Tuesday night, Jennifer Swiatek, owner of the Beverage Warehouse in Winooski, said she had been waiting for direction from the state Department of Liquor Control regarding Russian liquor brands.

Swiatek said that the situation had prompted her to look more thoroughly into the provenance of the vodka on the store's shelves.

"I thought more of them were [Russian], including Stoli," she said.

The state liquor outlet run by the Beverage Warehouse does carry the two Russian-owned brands that will be removed: Russian Standard Original Vodka and Hammer + Sickle Vodka. They are not huge sellers, Swiatek said, but Russian Standard "is one of the best vodkas out there for the money. People do buy it."

Swiatek described the Russian invasion of the Ukraine as "horrific," but said that pulling liquor brands from state agent store shelves, like those at the Beverage Warehouse, is "up to the DLC."

While awaiting direction from the state, Swiatek had pledged to donate any proceeds from Russian vodka sales to the United Help Ukraine nonprofit.

On Tuesday night, Swiatek said she was trying to educate staff and had instructed them to make signs to explain to customers that Smirnoff and Stolichnaya are not Russian-owned. She has also heard there is good vodka from the Ukraine, she added. "I would love to get Ukrainian vodka," she said.

Melissa Pasanen contributed reporting.