Russia-Ukraine Crisis

Virginia ABC Also Pulled Russian Vodka During the Cold War

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Russian vodka brands pulled from Virginia state-owned liquor store shelves in solidarity with Ukraine will be kept in storage for now — a move with precedent in the liquor monopoly’s nearly 100-year history.

The seven Russian-sourced vodkas in Virginia ABC inventory — amounting $77,500 in stock — will be kept in store back rooms and other state facilities “for the time being,” ABC spokesperson Carol Mawyer said in an email. Another $30,000 in stock, still owned by suppliers and not purchased by the ABC, also will be held from shelves.

The Russian vodka brands to be removed include Beluga, Hammer & Sickle, Imperia, Mamont, Organika, Russian Standard and ZYR.

The Russian-sourced spirits accounted for $1.2 million in Virginia ABC sales during fiscal year 2021 — a fraction of the $57.9 million generated in the same time frame by Tito’s brand vodka, the top-grossing vodka in the state.

It’s unclear what will ultimately happen to the liquor. The products won’t be destroyed, Mawyer said.

The state-run liquor store system attributed the decision to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s call on Feb. 26 for the state to take “decisive action” in support of Ukraine. Virginia ABC said in a Facebook post it would be reviewing its other products to determine whether they have origins in Russia.

It isn’t the first time the Virginia ABC has pulled alcohol from its shelves based on political sentiment.

Stolichnaya, or “Stoli,” was pulled from Virginia ABC shelves at least twice in the 1980s amid the Cold War. It was the only Russian-imported product carried in state liquor stores at the time, The Virginian-Pilot reported in 1983. The vodka was quietly returned to shelves once tensions thawed.

This time around, Stolichnaya is one of the “Russian-themed” vodkas staying on the shelf, as it is made in Latvia, according to its website.

Still, the vodka with hard-to-pin-down origins in Moscow was an instinctual target of wrath during chills in U.S.-Russian relations in the 1980s.

The first removal in 1980 was prompted by the then-Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Virginia ABC halted orders of Stolichnaya but kept remaining inventory up for sale until stock ran out, the Associated Press reported. The product returned in April 1981, The Pilot reported.

The high-priced spirit was pulled again in protest when Soviet jet fighters shot down a South Korean airliner carrying 269 passengers and crew members in 1983. A Virginia ABC spokesperson told a Pilot reporter at the time the removed bottles would be stored. The liquor was absent from shelves for nearly three years until its return in mid-1986.

Other states have joined the commonwealth in squirreling away their Russian liquor brands. Officials in Alabama, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia — all states that control the sale of alcohol — have directed Russian-sourced alcohol to be removed from store shelves.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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