Bow Street Market pulled bottles of Russian vodka from its shelves on Saturday, a response to a customer who emailed the Freeport store after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The grocery store was among the first in Maine to make the move, which is largely symbolic because only a small amount of vodka sold here is made in Russia. Its supplier, Bow Street Beverage in Portland, also has stopped selling Russian spirits. Other Maine liquor sellers are considering it.
Following New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Utah and other states, Gov. Janet Mills called on Maine regulators to delist Russian spirits in a Monday statement voicing solidarity with Ukraine. She also asked retailers and restaurants to stop offering the products.
The ban would affect only a small number of vodka brands. Among the most common one for sale is Russian Standard, a brand owned by Roustam Tariko, a wealthy Russian oligarch who also owns Russian Standard Bank. He is not listed among the very wealthy sanctioned by the United States. Maine Spirits, the exclusive wholesale supplier of liquor in Maine, lists six types of Russian Standard for sale.
Russian Standard is not a big seller compared with the popular Tito’s vodka, which is made in Texas. Carroll Golden, manager of Damon’s Beverage Mart in Augusta, said he sells one bottle of Russian Standard every 2 to 3 weeks, compared with the 50 bottles a day of Tito’s. Damon’s, which has five locations in Maine, is still thinking about removing it from its shelves.
The same is true at Bootleggers Beverage Warehouse in Topsham, where manager Tony Rossetti said it has discussed not selling the Russian vodka, and will follow what the state does. Bow Street Market only took 12 bottles of Russian-made vodka off the shelves.
Some of the better-known brands are not made in Russia. Bow Street Market pulled Stoli Vodka before discovering it is not made in Russia, said manager Lynn Tiedemman. Stoli Vodka is owned by Russian-born Yuri Shefler, but the company is based in Luxembourg and the vodka is made in Latvia. Stoli’s website opens with a statement supporting Ukraine, and Latvia supports Ukraine. Another well-known vodka brand, Smirnoff, is owned by Diageo of Britain and manufactured in Illinois.
Direct trade between Maine and both countries is relatively limited at $2.4 million combined in 2021, according to the Maine International Trade Center.
“We understand that, as a result of this Russian-driven aggression, Maine people and businesses will not be spared from the impacts of increased energy prices, potential reciprocal trade sanctions and further instability in global markets that are already struggling with ongoing pandemic and supply chain challenges,” Wade Merritt, president of the trade center, said.