Russian vodka removed from Canadian and American bars and liquor stores in response to Ukraine invasion

Bottles of alcohol on the conveyor belt of a distillery in Mariinsky Posad, Chuvashia, Russia in 2004. Credit – Verdlanco (CC BY-SA 2.5)

In addition to official government sanctions, bars and liquor stores in the United States and Canada are trying to harm Russia economically in response to its invasion of Ukraine by refusing to sell Russian vodka and other Russian alcohols.

In Ontario, Canada, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy has ordered the provincial liquor board to ask stores to remove Russian vodka and other alcoholic products, according to the Canadian Press.

“Ontario joins Canada’s allies in condemning the Russian government’s act of aggression against the Ukrainian people and we strongly support the federal government’s efforts to sanction the Russian government,” said Bethlenfalvy. “We will continue to be there for the people of Ukraine during this extremely difficult time.”

Bethlenfalvy’s announcement came shortly after Canada’s Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation (NLC) said it would also phase out Russian products.

“The Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation, along with other liquor authorities across Canada, has made the decision to remove Russian-origin products from its shelves,” NLC Liquor Store tweeted.

According to Statistics Canada, the country imported C$4.8 million ($3.78 million) worth of alcoholic beverages from Russia in 2021, down 23.8% from C$6.3 million in 2020. Vodka is the second most popular spirit among Canadian consumers after whiskey, Statscan said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced sanctions against Russia, intended to impose “heavy costs on complicit Russian elites” and limit President Vladimir Putin’s ability to continue funding the invasion, reports Reuters.

Jamie Stratton, manager of the Jacob Liquor Exchange in Wichita, Kan., says The Hill that his store removed more than 100 bottles of Russian vodka from its shelves, calling it a “small penalty”.

He also noted that the store plans to highlight Ukrainian vodka.

A Vermont ski resort posted a video of a bartender pouring Stoli vodka down the drain saying, “We don’t serve Russian products here.”

“Sorry Stoli Lovers. No More”, Magic Mountain Ski Area tweetedaccompanied by a Ukrainian flag emoji.

Bill McCormick, owner of Pine Tavern in Bend, Oregon, also shared a video in which he pours two bottles of Stolichnaya vodka, KPTV reported.

“Russia acts as if it were 1939 and enters Europe with all the strength it has in Ukraine. I am so worried that it will metastasize to other countries,” he told the outlet.

More a symbolic gesture than anything else

While Canadian imports of vodka and other alcoholic beverages from Russia totaled C$4.8 million ($3.78 million) in 2021, Paul Isely, associate dean and professor of economics at the Grand Valley State University, said there were approximately $41 million in Russian vodka sales in the United States every year.

“It’s really small compared to the $1.7 trillion economy in Russia, but for a business that can be very large, so if we were to decrease the units sold, it would affect the profitability of those businesses and affect their willingness to support [the conflict],” he said.

But Isely says hurting the companies that make the vodka is unlikely to influence Russian President Vladimir Putin or affect the country’s economy.

However, Isely says an argument could be made that any small boycott helps show solidarity. And, really, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

“Having this symbolism that says, yeah, there’s a big group of people supporting that by showing it and doing that kind of thing,” he said. “By boycotting a product, it can help show people around the world that the United States is not divided by this stuff.”