Stoli Vodka Just Made A Big Change In Response To The War In Ukraine

An iconic vodka brand is making moves to distance itself from its Russian roots amid the country's ongoing invasion of Ukraine. In a press release sent on March 4, Stolichnaya Vodka announced that it is officially changing its name and branding to reflect its longtime nickname Stoli.

The brand, which is owned by the Stoli Group, cited its "founder's vehement position on the Putin regime," as well as employee opposition to the war, and "the desire to accurately represent Stoli's roots in Latvia" as its motivations for the rebranding.

In the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, businesses and consumers around the world have announced boycotts of Russian-made products, including several Russian brands of vodka. According to Forward, many people have denounced Stoli, even though it is not actually made in Russia or owned by Russian citizens. Although the brand is often thought of as Russian vodka, due to its complicated history, it is actually produced in Latvia.

Stoli's storied past

Stolichnaya vodka was first manufactured in the Soviet Union by a state controlled distillery in the 1930s, though VinePair notes that the exact date and circumstances of its creation are a bit uncertain. Russia Beyond explains that in 1972 Stolichnaya began being imported to the U.S., thanks to a barter deal which allowed Pepsi to be sold in the socialist state.

As reported by Forward, in 1997, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Stolichnaya brand was purchased by Russian-born businessman Yuri Shefler from a state-owned manufacturer. Later that year, Shefler established the SPI group and began to sell Stolichnaya alongside other wine and liquor brands. However, in 2001 the Russian government challenged the legality of the sale in an effort to take back control of the brand.

Business Insider reports that Shefler had to leave Russia after the government tried "wrest control" of the company. He moved to Luxembourg, where SPI is headquartered, and now lives in Switzerland. During this time Shefler moved the production of Stoli to Latvia.

Standing with Ukraine

This is not the first time Stoli has been caught up in anti-Russian sentiments. In 2013, VinePair notes, it was swept up in a similar Russian vodka boycott encouraged by the LGBTQ+ community following the passage of Russia's "gay propaganda" ban.

Shefler and Stoli have been vocal in their criticism of Putin and the Russian government's actions in Ukraine. The Stoli website currently includes a message on its homepage stating "we unequivocally condemn the military action in Ukraine and stand in support of the Ukrainian people," while Friday's press release included a statement from Shefler saying "more than anything, I wish for 'Stoli' to represent peace in Europe and solidarity with Ukraine." The brand also announced a move last week to use only Slovakian sources for its ingredients as a further measure to distance itself from Russia, reports CNN.

In the press release, Stoli also announced a "financial commitment" to World Central Kitchen, chef José Andrés' non-profit which is currently providing meals and relief to refugees fleeing Ukraine.