a tale of two Stolis
This is a review of Stolichnaya vodka from Latvia. I sampled it in the US in 2011. It’s clear, 40% alcohol, and I thought it was great.
I stayed in and had some of that good Stolichnaya vodka (Столичная) today. This is a Latvian brand that is mainly targeted at foreign markets. The guys in Mad Men have it all the time, so I was pretty excited to try it out myself. Something that’s good for Don Draper can’t be bad for me, right?
a post-Soviet mess
So apparently the history of Stolichnaya vodka is a bit complicated. It used to be a Soviet brand produced by the renowned Moscow Distillery Cristall. In the early 1970s, Pepsi made a deal to distribute Stolichnaya vodka in the United States. At the same time, Pepsi became the first major US brand to sell their products in the Soviet Union. So far so good.
After the collapse of the USSR, the rights to Stolichnaya vodka were held by the state-owned Soyuzplodoimport. The head of Soyuzplodoimport, a man named Yuri Shefler, transferred these rights (along with a bunch of other vodka brands) to a company called Soyuzplodimport (yes, it’s almost the same name, just missing an “o”). Then Soyuzplodimport in turn sold the rights to a company called SPI Group – and for a mere 300,000$.
Now who might be the owner of this SPI Group? Yes, you guessed correctly: our man Yuri Shefler himself. He is now a billionaire.
two (or three) Stolis
Needless to say that the rights have been under dispute ever since. This means that effectively SPI gets to produce Stolichnaya vodka in most countries on the planet, using Russian distillate and Latvian water. In Russia, however, Stolichnaya vodka is still produced by the state-owned Soyuzplodoimport.
So in fact there are two totally different Stolichnaya vodka brands, one Latvian (or: international), and one Russian.
Oh, and by the way: Moscow Distillery Cristall actually still produces an offshoot of Stolichnaya vodka called Stolichnaya Kristal under license from Soyuzplodoimport.
Was all of this very complicated? Yes.
Well, here’s something simple: many English-speakers refer to Stolichnaya as Stoli.
LGBTQ friendliness from Latvia
The one I’m having is the Latvian Stoli. I guess you could also say that it’s Russian. But since it’s bottled in Latvia using Latvian water, and since there’s another Stoli from Russia, I’m going to call this one the Latvian Stoli.
Here’s a picture of the label on the back:
PROUDLY PRODUCED AND BOTTLED AT THE HISTORIC LATVIJAS BALZAMS.
Seems like Latvia alright.
The website stoli.com is shiny and very red:
There is a splash screen with a special edition celebrating the LGBTQ activist Harvey Milk:
This made me wonder if Soyuzplodoimport, the Russian company that was producing Stolichnaya vodka in Russia, had an equally flashy and socially conscious website. Well, here’s what I found at spimport.ru in the category Stolichnaya:
I’m beginning to think that I will have to get my hands on a bottle of Russian-produced Stolichnaya vodka and give that one a try. It really is an independent product.
Oh, and the Stolichnaya Kristal as well:
Back on stoli.com, the site didn’t offer much in terms of information about their particular kind of Stoli:
REFRESHINGLY MODERN AND EXCEPTIONALLY CLASSIC. Who would have guessed.
Latvian Stolichnaya vodka is good
Back to our review: the bottle of Stolichnaya vodka that I have here tastes like quality. It’s smooth and refined. It does a great job at leaving that nice warm feeling in the stomach, and there is an aroma that hints at caramel in the aftertaste.
I liked the old school bottle design, and the price of 14€ for 700ml was surprisingly affordable.
Overall, Latvian or not, this is some good vodka. I suggest drinking it at room temperature, with a bit of bread or some pickles. Or do it like Don Draper’s boss: mix it with milk. Because milk is good for your health. And also because of Harvey.