John Trump: Consumers know what they want, and it’s not Russian vodka

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2022

By John Trump

A ban on Russian vodka, a move by many U.S. states and countries, is wholly symbolic.

We, as Amercians and North Carolinians, don’t drink Russian vodka.

Why would we?

It generally doesn’t taste better and, actually, is mass-produced and probably more watered down than liquor made in smaller batches, most especially products made in North Carolina. Try the hand-crafted vodka from Fainting Goat Spirits or Cultivated Cocktails. Doc Porter’s, TOPO, Mystic, or Great Wagon Road. Taste the grains of a product produced in small batches, made with patience and care.

Grain to glass, plow to pour. Whatever cute or clever phrase you prefer. It will cost more, but paying a few extra bucks to drink something worth your time is always preferable to slogging down booze made for the sole purpose of getting you drunk.

But Gov. Roy Cooper and his counterparts around the country, and even leaders of countries around the world, had to do something, right? Vodka seemed an easy target. Multiple stories say the first documented production of vodka happened around the 9th century in Russia, or maybe in Poland. Nevertheless, the un-aged spirit originated in Eastern Europe and is commonly associated with Russian history and culture.

Vodka is also the most popular spirit in the world, due largely for its lack of grain taste, beyond the alcohol, and its versatility. It comes in a plethora of flavors and works in almost any cocktail.

Thing is, Americans don’t drink Russian vodka, but we do use its oil and other refined products, although our imports of Russian crude are about just 3%, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal. The Biden administration and lawmakers  are making noise about cutting off Russian oil, but that, too, is largely symbolic and presents a complex problem, as much of Europe depends on Russian energy, including natural gas. Further, the administration’s own liberal climate agenda is exacerbating the Russia problem and consequently driving up gas prices in the U.S.

All of which makes a ban on Russian vodka seem kind of silly.

One, it inserts the government into the free market in some states, which shouldn’t happen. North Carolina controls the sale of distribution of liquor, so banning any product, for whatever reason, is problematic on another level altogether.

N.C. hasn’t paid for Russian vodka now sitting idle in a state liquor warehouse, N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Commission spokesman Jeff Strickland told Carolina Journal.

That’s good news, as many consumers thought otherwise, according to comments from social media on my original story about the Russian vodka.

The warehouse operates on a bailment system, Strickland says.

“The state of North Carolina does not purchase those products, and they are still owned by the supplier when they are in the warehouse,” Strickland wrote in an email. “Once an ABC Board places an order and receives a product, they have 30 days to pay the supplier directly.”

The ABC, after all, is simply following Cooper’s order.

The suspended liquor is removed from the list of products available for boards to order for delivery, and it will be up to the suppliers to determine whether they should shift their inventory to other locations for other needs, Strickland said.

And few people, from what I can tell, at least anecdotally, are clamoring for Russian vodka. Nor should they be.

Ollie Mulligan, who owns Great Wagon Road Distilling Co., makes a line of fine single-malt whiskeys, all with a nod to Mulligan’s Irish heritage and his family’s whiskey-making tradition.

His vodka, Salamander, is made with corn and carries sweet notes of bright citrus. It’s also made in Charlotte.

Support North Carolina, he says. Buy local. Always,

“Because,” he says, “it keeps the money in the community.”

Yet another reason the government should remove itself from the marketplace. People will consume based on their needs and their desires. Government should have no role in that.

There are other reasons, too.

Richard Chapman founded Bogue Sound Distillery in Bogue, where he also makes a line of whiskey — including a covetable rye — and Vitzellen Vodka, named in honor of a nurse serving during the Civil War in the Old Capital Prison of D.C., his website says.

It’s made with corn and distilled 21 times. Carefully, patiently.

“We take our time to do it,” he says “To make sure what we do is done properly.”

As Richard Chapman says, as is often the case, taste runs in proportion to price.

Russian-made vodka, in general, is inexpensive. Cheap.

“Most of it tastes like kerosene anyway,” says Chapman.

John Trump is Carolina Journal managing editor and author of “Still & Barrel: Craft Spirits in the Old North State.”