It’s amazing what a year can do. Despite an international boycott that saw Russian vodka unceremoniously dumped in the streets around the world last year, including Vancouver, to protest that country’s anti-gay laws, Stoli is back on the menu as the Vancouver Pride Society welcomes the brand as a partner at this year’s Vancouver Pride celebrations.
The distinction, according to Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) president Ray Lam, comes from confusion regarding the Stolichnaya brand and its connection to Russia. So much confusion in fact, that the VPS links to the specially designed webpage http://stoliforequality.com created by SPI Group LLC, who distribute the product, to dispel some of the myths surrounding the boycott.
“Stoli is neither a Russian product nor do they have any relation or sway with the Russian Federation,” says Lam in response to an email sent by Vancouver resident David Bremner, questioning the VPS decision to accept sponsorship dollars from Stoli.
According to Lam, Stoli is a Latvian product owned by SPI Group LLC which produces “Stolichnaya – Premium Vodka”, a subtle but important distinction from the “Stolichnaya – Russian Vodka” that is produced in the Russian Federation. According to SPI Group, the distinction between Russian vodka and premium vodka came during a rebranding in 2010.
“As a result, the SPI Group has been engaged in an international trademark dispute with the Russian Federation for over a decade. ‘Stolichnaya – Premium Vodka’ is our partner and is neither sold nor produced in Russia,” says Lam.
While Stoli available in Canada and some 160+ other countries is distilled in Latvia and distributed by the Luxembourg-based SPI Group, its main ingredient, raw alcohol distilled from grain, comes from Russia. For the VPS, that isn’t enough to stop them from partaking of the sponsorship funds offered, pointing to the work that SPI Group, through its brand Stoli, have undertaken around the world in supporting LGBTQ rights.
“The VPS is thorough in reviewing all partners, however, we were particularly vigilant with vetting Stoli due to the perception that Stoli is not LGBTQ friendly,” says Lam. “As is evident by Stoli’s participation in various LGBTQ+ initiatives around the world, including the Russian Freedom Fund, Stoli passed all of our respective screens.”
After saying he was initially embarrassed thinking he got it wrong, Bremner said he was ninety percent satisfied with the answer:
“… I did a bit more Google/wiki research. Stoli, short for Stolichnaya, is indeed a Russian brand and Russian recipe that was bought by SPI along with a bunch of other Russian alcohol brands, when the USSR collapsed,” says Bremner. “So I don’t think they need to give the money back but I still think it’s unfortunate that the number two sponsor of the Pride Parade is a brand that many will recognize as Russian even if the product shifted to be made outside Russia relatively recently.”
Vancouver Pride 2014. The official Pride Week festivities takes place July 28 – August 4, 2014. Visit http://vancouverpride.ca for more information.