Russians, Gays and Booze – Does Boycotting Stoli Make Sense?


“Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, has declared war on homosexuals. So far, the world has been mostly silent,” wrote Harvey Fierstein, in his op-ed piece in the July 21 edition of the NY Times.

The war has been going on for sometime and gets more ugly each week. There is a law banning the adoption of Russian born children to gay couples and — get this — any couple living in a country where marriage equality exists in any form. The police in Russia are allowed to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual, or “pro gay.”

Earlier in June, Putin signed a bill that classifies “homosexual propaganda” (whatever the hell that is) as pornography. The stupidity and narrow-mindedness of that law, makes it a prosecutable offense for anyone describing homosexuality as not evil. Anyone – parents, teachers, judges, etc.

The discrimination has become an issue for the 2014 Winter Games in Russia as to whether gay athletes will be safe there. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has provided some lame reassurances, but if history is any indicator, there is reason for concern.

Speaking of history, in the early 1980s at the height of the cold war, two events roused the public anger against Russia and the then Soviet Union. One was the shooting down of the Korean Air Line passenger plane and the other was the boycott of the US Olympics in Los Angeles.

The response by consumers in the US was to boycott Russian products. Since Russia’s main exports were (and still are) caviar and vodka, it was not surprising to see news photos of bartenders pouring Stoli down sewers. Other than increase the awareness of Absolut (which was struggling at the time) the boycott had little effect.

Now we have history repeating itself with gay activists and bars boycotting Russian vodka and aiming their ire at Stolichnaya. A recent article in reported:

“Dan Savage, columnist, author… published an article in Seattle’s independent newspaper, The Stranger, titled ‘Why I’m Boycotting Russian Vodka,’ urging gay bars to stop serving the brand and others like Russian Standard, Shustov, Starka, and Stolichnaya.”

Now, just hold on a minute. I understand the anger and desire to send a message to Russia, but why Stoli. The brand and its owner and managers, are supporters of the LGBT community and have been for some time. Further, the Russian government has no ownership interest or control over the Stoli brand, which is privately owned by the SPI group whose headquarters are in Luxembourg.

So, targeting Stoli is misguided. I doubt that Putin gives a shit other than to laugh at the effort.

Want to send a message? Organize a boycott of the viewing of the 2014 Winter Games by letting NBC and their advertisers know how you feel. Send a message by letting the Russian leaders know that the viewership of their Olympics will be the worst in modern history.

Boycotting Stoli is as meaningless as boycotting caviar.

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Gibson Martini – What are those things doing in my drink?

gibsonThe Gibson Martini is generally made with gin (or vodka), vermouth and a few pickled onions referred to as pearl onions.

In the great debate as to how to garnish a martini – what type of olive, stuffed or plain, how many – the Gibson, known for pearl onions, has been somewhat obscured. While originally branded for the association with Gibson Gin, the Gibson is now identified for those cute little white things regardless of the booze used.

As a public service to drinkers everywhere, here is the Gibson story. Or, should I say, stories.

First, while martinis are found all over film, books and TV (think James Bond), the poor Gibson is kind of obscure. Best I could come up with was the occasional drink by Roger Sterling in Mad Men, Cary Grant in North by Northwest, a Frasier episode (Stoli Gibson with three pearl onions) and not much else.

What I find fascinating about the Gibson, are the stories about how the drink came about. I found three.pearl onions

The most common one is linked to the 1930s and Charles Dana Gibson, the illustrator known for the Gibson Girl images. As the story goes, he challenged a bartender named Charlie Connolly at New York’s Players Club to create a “different drink.” The result was garnishing a martini with cocktail onions that became know as the Gibson.

Nah, I’m not buying it. Sounds like it came from some old school press agent.

The second one goes back 40 years prior to this. Mr. Walter D K Gibson is supposed to have had the first martini named in his honor at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco. Apparently, this gentleman didn’t like the way they prepared gin martinis so he specified the brand and had them add pearl onions. Also, he believed eating onions would prevent colds.

I’m not buying this one either.

The story I subscribe to came from a good barman friend and we all know that the stories told over a bar are more accurate than anything on the Internet, not to mention other sources.

As Adam D. tells it, a savvy businessman and banker in the 50’s and 60s often found himself out with clients for the proverbial three-martini lunch. Unable to function during and after the meal, he had the bartender serve him cold water so he could remain sober while his clients got shit-faced. The cocktail onion was used as garnish so his beverage could be distinguished from the others. The banker’s name was Gibson.

Now, there’s a story I can believe.



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Wacky World of Vodka

Over half a billion 9-litre cases of vodka are sold around the world. It should not come as a surprise therefore, that some strange things occur with brands, people and the category itself.

As a public service to my blog readers, I have found just a few of the more interesting, and yes, wacky recent occurrences.

The Vodka for the Rich

Stoli is introducing a $3,000 a bottle of vodka from the Himalayan Edition of Stolichnaya’s Pristine Water Series. Only 300 bottles will be sold globally. Apparently what makes it so expensive is the type of water used, sourced from the Himalayan mountains, from an underground reservoir that has been pooling fresh melted snow. The water is then combined with 100% winter wheat harvested from Russia’s Tambov region. As an added bonus, it comes in a hand-blown glass bottle with a gold-plated decorative ice pick – perfect for your spouse to stick in your brain when he/she sees the credit card bill.

Not to be outdone, there is a company I believe is based in Hong Kong, selling (or about to launch) Royal Dragon vodka from Russia. There are three editions, but the Emperor Vodka will be made from rye and only 888 bottles will be sold.

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