As Russian attacks on Ukraine continue to dominate the global conversation, Oregon’s supply of Russian vodka is — quite deliberately — leaving liquor stores. The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) announced Monday evening that it would be sequestering all of the Russian-owned and -produced vodkas in its distribution center, which include big-name brands like Beluga and Russian Standard. In a news release, it also indicated that the commission is directing liquor store operators to pull these products from their store shelves, and that the OLCC has stopped fulfilling orders of Russian-owned and made spirits from its warehouse. The decision involves the removal of over 5,000 bottles from store shelves, according to the OLCC.
Bryant Haley, a representative for the OLCC, says that response to the commission’s decision has been largely positive. He also clarified that Russian vodkas make up a small portion of overall sales for the state, its liquor stores, and the bars and restaurants that buy from them. If they don’t sell through the bottles, the approximate loss would only be $60,000, a fraction of the multimillion-dollar industry. But Haley emphasized that the move reflects a “think globally, act locally” mentality; he hopes Portlanders think deliberately about the distillers they choose to support, and seek out vodkas from Oregon-based distilleries and other parts of the world. “It’s not just unique to Portland,” he says. “We’re part of the larger story.”
Celebrated Portland Slavic restaurant Kachka sells a large array of Russian vodkas, listed on its geographically organized menu, to pair with Herring Under a Fur Coat and zakuski. That being said, chef and co-owner Bonnie Morales says that she supports the OLCC’s decision, specifically because of the nuance of the OLCC policy, which lists out specific, large-scale Russian spirits brands.
“These aren’t small mom and pop brands; they are owned by oligarchs,” Morales says. “We think it’s important to take that stance and we support it. We’re pulling those products from our back bar.”
What does concern Morales is the potential for Americans to boycott products perceived as Russian. Even before the move from the OLCC, KATU News published a video of Bill McCormick, the owner of the Pine Tavern in Bend, pouring his bar’s Stolichnaya into the streets to protest the war. Stoli, as it’s popularly known, is produced in Latvia, not Russia.
“Not drinking vodka period is a dangerous stance for consumers to make; they need to divorce the Russian culture from the Russian oligarchy and elite. Continuing to support the culture now is more important than ever,” Morales says. “Most Russians do not support the war — thousands are being jailed because you can’t protest in Russia. My heart breaks not only for the people in Ukraine but for the Russians who wanted nothing to do with this and who are being jailed at home and discriminated against abroad.”
Kachka is currently donating 100 percent of proceeds from its Chervona Wine cocktail sales to Ukrainian Red Cross efforts, and Morales says they’re looking for ways to further help Ukraine. She also mentioned her wish that the OLCC would carry more Ukrainian vodkas in general; at the moment, Nemiroff is the only available Ukrainian brand, and it has limited availability within the state.
According to Forbes, Oregon is one of 10 states that have started pulling Russian vodka from their shelves. Of course, not every state in the country has a liquor commission that regulates sales; Texas governor Greg Abbott encouraged restaurants and retailers to halt vodka sales, while others have called for boycotts. Still, confusion and misinformation have led to incidences like Bend’s Stoli pouring, and Russian vodka sales make up roughly one percent of vodka sales in the United States, according to CNN.