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Silly Gays: A Complete History of Stoli Vodka as Told by GIFs
August 5, 2013 | 9:00AM

A lot of anger has been directed lately at Russian vodka due to Vladimir Putin’s horrible anti-gay laws. One group, led by sex columnist/guy-we’d-totally-sleep-with Dan Savage is even leading a #DumpStoli boycott of Stolichnaya vodka because it is Russian. Unfortunately, Savage and his friends couldn’t be more wrong about Stoli (which is not a Russian vodka). So, the BYGays are here to help set the record flamboyantly straight.

Before we get started, we should point out that BYT has a wonderful working relationship with Diagio, which owns rival vodka brand Smirnoff and all it’s uber-delicious Smirnoff brands. So, we have no financial interest in presenting you our:

Complete History of Stoli Vodka as Told by GIFs

Created sometime around 1950, Stolichnaya vodka was an iconic brand of the Soviet Union. Everyone there drank it, and it was as Soviet as the Bolshoi Ballet, Sputnik, and dancing bears.

And we mean everyone in the Soviet Union drank it.

But then, in 1991 the Soviet Union suddenly broke up.

It was a crazy time in the former Soviet Union, and especially in Russia. No one knew what the fuck was going on.

Enter Yuri Sheffler, a Russian businessman who bought the rights to Stolichnaya vodka for around $400,000 from the Kremlin-controlled FKP Soyuzplodoimport company. It was a steal.[1]

In the early 2000′s, Vladimir Putin came to power and waged war on the new Russian billionaires, whom he accused of stealing from the Russian people.[1][2]

In the case of Stolichnaya and Sheffler, Putin was all like “I will hunt you down to the end of the Earth and take your vodka company.”[2]

And Sheffler was like “Whatevs…”

Basically, every bottle of Stolichnaya vodka sold pissed off Vladimir Putin to no end.

In 2001, Putin threatened to throw Sheffler into jail and take his company. So, the Russian billionaire left for Western Europe and took Stolichnaya with him.[3]

For the past twelve years, due to the fact that Vladimir Putin wants to jail its owner and steal his company, Stoli has not been a Russian company.  Shefler lives in exile. The Stoli brand is owned by a Dutch company, whose parent company SPI Group is headquartered in Luxemburg, and who produces its Stoli vodka in Latvia.

But wait, there are actually two Stolis.[1]

When Stolichnaya split from Russia, Putin set up his own Stoli. Putin’s zombie Stoli only sells Stolichnaya vodka inside Russia, but it retains the same label and packaging. Think of it as Stoli’s evil Russian twin. But, unless you’re drinking Stolichnaya vodka in Russia, you are not drinking Russian Stoli vodka. You’re drinking Dutch/Latvian vodka.

But, controlling his fake Stolichnaya vodka inside Russia wasn’t enough for Vladimir Putin. So, he decided to go all Legally Blonde and fight Yuri Sheffler in every court he could around the world in order to take control of the Stoli brand.

So far…he’s failed.

What Putin has succeeded in is passing a series of draconian anti-gay laws in Russia. Like, seriously, anti-gay.

That pissed off the gays, and they decided to do something about it.

And the gays LOVE vodka. Like, Lurrve it.

So, a bunch of rightfully angry queens (ahem, sexy DILFy Dan Savage) decided to do something about it. So, they launched a campaign to dump Stoli vodka because they heard it was Russian.

Before we go any further, let’s recognize that Dan Savage and the ‘Dump Stoli’ group is trying to do the right thing. That’s good.

The first problem, though, with the campaign is that it was launched by Westerners without actually talking to any activists inside Russia.

The second problem is that Stoli is not Russian. They were thinking of Vladimir Putin’s evil-twin Russian Stoli vodka.

When confronted with this fact, the Dump Stoli group responded by saying that Stoli’s owner is ethnically Russian (without noting that he’s on the run from Russia because Vladimir Putin wants to take his company).

But then, they protested that Stoli deserves a boycott because it says “Russian Vodka” on the label. But, that’s marketing (and it actually hasn’t said that in about seven years). That’s like protesting T.G.I. Friday’s because it serves German chocolate cake.

But, then they complained that Stoli uses some Russian ingredients…just like Coca-Cola uses some Russian ingredients in the products that it sells throughout Russia. Actually, Coca-Cola operates up to 16 plants in the Russian Federation while employing over 13,000 people there (and claiming its supply chain employs up to 130,000 people). But, no one is calling on gays to dump Fanta and Sprite and certainly not Diet Coke.[4]

“Whatever,” Dan Savage and his ‘Dump Stoli’ friends responded. “At the end of the year Stoli will be a Russian company again.” Well…not exactly. A court in the Hauge ruled that the Stoli brand in the Netherlands, Luxemburg, and Belgium did belong to the Russian Federation. So, it could be possible that Putin could be selling his zombie Stoli vodka in those three countries soon (but, just there). But, it’s still unclear if that will happen. We’ll wait to see what the legal experts have to say.[8]

“Well,” people like Savage say. “Stoli has never hidden its Russian roots and actually embraces them.” Yes, that’s correct. You can say the same thing for Cuban exile Gloria Estefan who has never hidden her Cuban roots, embraces them, and has capitalized on being Cuban. Yet, it would be unfair to target Estefan for the policies of the Castro brothers in Cuba. In fact, as a Cuban exile, Estefan has been on of their largest critics – just as Yuri Sheffler, as a Russian exile, has been one of Putin’s largest critics.

Ok, ok. We get that Stoli’s owner has been in a decade-plus battle with Vladimir Putin and Putin has persecuted Stoli vodka literally to the ends of the Earth. But, as people like John Aravosis of AmericaBlog argue, if hurting Stoli and Yuri Sheffler is the price to pay to raise awareness for this issue, then that is a good thing. It’s drawing attention to the greater good. Actually, that is called scapegoating, and it is one of the most evil things you can do as a human being.

On Friday, the Latvian LGBT group MOZAIKA called on the ‘Dump Stoli’ group to stop their boycott as it is actually hurting Latvia and not Russia.[6]

When confronted with all of this, Dan Savage brushed it off saying that he couldn’t be bothered since he was on vacation.[7]

But, refusing to recognize that they were wrong from the beginning, the Dump Stoli group continues to act like a bunch of crazy creationists and deny reality.

So, what can you do to combat homophobia and homophobic laws in Russia? The first thing to do is to listen to local Russian activists. The roots of homophobia and homophobic laws in Russia are different than the United States and the path forward is going to be hard. But, we can dialogue with local activists to see what they want us to do.

On the home front, in December, the U.S. implemented permanent normal trade relations with the Russian Federation. This means that trade with Russia will no longer be subject for review based on human rights violations. There are a few major U.S. companies who spent a lot of money lobbying for this. They include Caterpillar, Deere & Co., International Paper and Boeing. These companies make millions – if not billions – in Russia and operate multiple plants there. In fact, Boeing (while now headquartered in Chicago as of a few years ago) is culturally based in Dan Savage’s hometown of Seattle. Boeing is huge in Russia and even supplies the Russian state with military equipment. Boeing hopes that trade normalization with Russia will make the company over $130 billion over the next two decades. Instead of targeting Stoli, which is persecuted by the Russian state and which maintains a small footprint in the Russian Federation, it might be worth looking at what pressure can be applied to these companies who maintain massive operations in Russia…and what pressure can be applied the U.S. Congress.[5]

So, can you drink Stoli? If you are outside of Russia, drink up. Not only is Stolichnaya an extremely LGBT friendly brand, every bottle of Stoli vodka sold pisses off Vladimir Putin to no end. We hope that Dan Savage will soon join reality so we can go back to fantasizing about giving him blowjobs (seriously, Dan, call us).

The end.

ponylittleAlthough the BYGays drink vodka, they prefer whiskey. For more on DC’s LGBT nightlife scene follow the @BYGays on Twitter.

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Recent Comments:
  • kasimir says:

    Though I despise Putin, (Pukin)…and disagree wholeheartedly with his Nazi-like stance on gays, (I’m a gay guy myself – who missed the Olympics by about 2 seconds…in 2006 – I’m a swimmer – but, sorry that’s off topic-
    The issue is Culture and Custom. You look back at the United States 55-60 yrs ago – and people simply didn’t know what the word ‘gay’ is/was – - – the Progress we’ve made in 50 yrs is Shocking…I can’t imagine my grandfather or great-grandmother – who both died in the late 60-s way before I was born, coming back for a ‘visit to earth’ and seeing just one topic/thing – gay/homosexuality… that’s where Russia is right now. They are a ‘tough’ rugged-backwards nation, with a Rich Culture – No – Rich CULTURES – Within the former Soviet Union, of which Russia Is Just ONE state/federated nation in the Federated States of the Russian Federation…there are over 150 Cultures, 135 languages spoken and each is distinct…so there is a lot more of the gay/straight/Putin issue than we see on the surface… Is Putin Dumb and stupid and going to hell? Yes… as he should…but don’t just look at Putin’s antics – we must look at the RSFSR as a whole…and its many ethno-linguistic cultures and people…

  • Anonymous says:

    This is over simplistic dribble. The fact is the group that owns Stoli if a front, comprised likely of Russian interests principally the government.

    • Sterling Ericsson says:

      You are just completely ignorant. Did you even read the article at all. There’s no way Stoli is affiliated with the Russian government when its owner has been exiled from Russia and when Putin and the Russian government have been trying to take down the company for years.

  • Kenover says:

    This is a complete load of crap and you know it. First of all, there isn’t “angry talk” of boycotting Stoli…it’s happening all over the US from NYC to San Francisco and all across Europe too. And where do you get off trivializing the persecution and murder of Russian gays and lesbians with cutesy little video clips? Shame on you! Will we be seeing Stoli ads on your webpage soon, like Queerty and Gay Cities? Or did they just pay you to run this tripe?

    Here are the facts: Stolichnaya Vodka is owned by SPI (Soyuzplodimport) Group, which is controlled by Yuri Scheffler, a Russian oligarch who sails around the world in a $300 million yacht and is one of the 100 richest men in Russia. If you think he doesn’t have any influence with Vladimir Putin, you don’t know how the world works. The company is incorporated in Luxembourg for tax reasons and the vodka is distilled in Latvia from Russian ingredients imported from farms in Russia that SPI Group owns. If that’s not a Russian company then Honda and Sony are not a Japanese companies.

    Go ask Coors Beer and the Coors family whether boycotts work or not. For those who don’t remember, the Coors family supported right-wing, homophobic organizations and causes like the Heritage Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, which is their right, but they also tried to bust the brewery workers union and unfairly fired gay and lesbian employees in 1977 — setting off a decade-long boycott of Coors beer in the gay community. After a bitter fight and a change in management, Coors encouraged gay and lesbian workers to organize and in May 1995 Coors became the 21st publicly traded US corporation to extend employee benefits to same-sex partners — long before most other companies.

    Don’t let anyone tell you boycotts don’t work; they do! More importantly, they bring public scrutiny and condemnation upon the wrongdoers. Business is about making money and, as has been noted many times before, money talks.

    SPI Group understands the power of boycotts all too well, which is why they’ve mounted a major PR campaign to protect their LGBT market share. Suddenly the Stoli website has gone rainbow gay and PR flacks are shouting out the company’s support for LGBT rights. And they’re buying positive press at media outlets like Queerty by “sponsoring” events that pour cash into your coffers. If they really want to do something positive, they should stop the PR charm offensive and take all this money and donate to underfunded Russian LGBT organizations that are under siege and mount a media campaign against the oppression of gays and lesbians in Russia, but they don’t — because there’s no profit in it for them. So they continue funding this cynical PR campaign to keep gays in the West swilling Stoli.

    I salute all gay bars who have stopped serving Stoli….and all publications that refuse their bloody hush money. But it’s not just this company. All LGBT people of conscience should BOYCOTT ALL RUSSIAN PRODUCTS AND THE 2014 SOCHI OLYMPICS. Hit them where it hurts…in the wallet and the court of public opinion. Putin is a vain little dictator who cares about his image in the world. Actions must have consequences. Make Putin, the Duma, and the Russian Orthodox Church pay for this anti-gay pogrom!

    • Sterling Ericsson says:

      I echo what the anon was saying above. You clearly have no idea what you’re talking about. Putin has been trying to arrest Sheffler and take down SPI for decades. SPI and Stolichnaya is one of his main political enemies, especially since Sheffler has been a devout supporter of the LGBT community practically since he was exiled from Russia, if not before that. He has spent millions of his own dollars on supporting our community, having funded and produced a documentary series about the LGBT community and helping get non-profits, organizations, and pride parades started.

      Without him, the San Diego Pride Parade would have never happened. He was one of the critical funders back when it was just being organized. SPI Group and Yuri Sheffler have done more for the LGBT community than any other company or organization, even in the midst of Putin trying to sue them out of existence.

    • Anonymous says:

      Except if you had any reading comprehension, you’d see that Yuri Scheffler isn’t actually in Russia. He’s living in exile because Putin has an arrest warrant out for him. Secondly, the problem with the Coors boycott is even when Coors became the 21st publicly traded company to extend employee benefits, no one called off the boycott. In fact, Don Kilhefner was still pushing the boycott as late as 2005. And the Coors boycott was actually targeting Coors. The problem with boycotting Stoli is they can’t do a damned thing to change Russia and you idiots have been spending all your energy justifying your stupid boycott that you’re neglecting the actual issue. You’ve made SPI the enemy, when up until your idiot blog leaders told you otherwise, was an ally.

      • Kenover says:

        Although your arguments are specious you might have a little more credibility if you chose to publish comments under your name rather than anonymously. Do you, perhaps, work for Soyuzplodimport Group or its PR firm?

  • ProfFate says:

    Gay Lemmings! Dan Savage says jump and some people say ” how high “.
    The Stoli boycott is not universally working in the LGBT community, and is sadly misguided.

  • Jeff King says:

    Thank you, that was hilarious. You don’t speak for me Dan Savage. Suck it.

  • Duncan Osborne says:

    Text with links to sources is here — http://queernationny.org/stolifacts

    The Facts About Stolichnaya Vodka and its Owner, SPI Group

    “Russia plays an essential element in our brand…” — SPI Group CEO

    On May 29, 2013, Val Mendeleev, the CEO of SPI as well as of Stolichnaya, told The Spirits Business, a leading spirits industry trade publication: “The grain is 100% Russian and we have thousands of hectares of land 400 kilometers south of Moscow…. The part Russia plays is an essential element in our brand education. It’s where the brand was born and where our grain comes from today.”

    “Stoli is the best-known Russian product outside Russia.” — SPI’s PR firm

    On July 30, 2013, Kevin Sniffen of the Susan Magrino Agency, Stolichnaya’s own public relations firm, told Forbes magazine: “We understand Stoli is probably the best-known Russian product outside Russia.”

    We are Russian vodka, says Stoli CEO

    On July 31, 2013, Michelangelo Signorile, a well-respected gay journalist with his own talk show on SiriusXM Radio, asked SPI-Group CEO Val Mendeleev: “Are you saying now that [Stolichnaya’s] not Russian vodka?” Mendeleev replied, “No.” The interview may be heard on the popular blog Joe.My.God.

    Russian Authenticity, Confirmed

    That Stolichnaya is a Russian vodka has been the company’s position for years. In 2008, when a competitor, Russian Standard, questioned Stolichnaya’s Russian authenticity, Ian Jamieson, then the president of the Stolichnaya brand at Pernod Ricard, the vodka’s global distributor at that time, told Vanity Fair magazine, “Stolichnaya, as it is sold outside of Russia, is distilled in Russia. And then it is moved from Russia to Latvia, where it is put into bottles. There is nothing added, nothing taken away, no additions, no subtractions from the product that leaves Russia… Stolichnaya is the original, authentic, genuine Russian vodka brand made with genuine, authentic Russian vodka from Russia. Period. Absolutely no doubt about it.” [PDF of Vanity Fair UK magazine November 2008 article is available upon request.]

    Stolichnaya: Founded, grown and distilled in Russia

    The SPI Group is a Russian company, that was founded in Russia in 1991, and that bought the Stolichnaya brand from the Russian government in 1997. The wheat and rye it uses to make Stolichnaya grows on 12,000 acres of Russian land, and there are hundreds of SPI employees in Russia.

    SPI owns and operates two distilleries in Russia, including the largest distillery in Russia. This is where the raw alcohol for Stolichnaya is distilled. This distillery “is a leader in Russia for production of ethyl alcohol” and “one of five largest Russian producers of alcohol.”

    Nearly all of the processing of Stolichnaya occurs in Russia. Only the final step occurs in Latvia. The Russian distillery in which it is made and the factory in which it is bottled in Latvia are owned by SPI.

    The SPI Group, the company that owns the Stolichnaya brand has never claimed that Stolichnaya is anything but a Russian vodka, and they continue to reinforce that claim in most world market (excluding the United States). They benefit worldwide from the Russian branding.

    Marketed and Advertised as Russian Vodka

    That Stolichnaya is a Russian vodka has been the company’s position for years. On August 26, 2009, here’s what David Roberts of Multiply, Stoli’s own ad agency, told Drum, and industry publication: “Stoli is a world renowned brand and we are delighted to be working with Russia’s authentic vodka to develop even greater trade and consumer knowledge and awareness.”

    The company has altered its marketing and labeling in the U.S. and other countries where being Russian has become a liability. Stolichnaya is still marketed outside of the U.S. as a Russian vodka, with “Russian Vodka” on its label.

    SPI Sells Russian Vodka in Russia

    SPI owns and markets many other brands that it calls “domestic vodkas”: Gradus, Vodka Great Embassy, LB Vodka, Vodka Kaliningradskaya, and Kaznacheyskaya. They are sold in Russia, where they are produced.

    From SPI Group’s Website: “Our local vodkas represent all that is best about Russia’s favourite drink… Kaznacheyskaya is a quality brand created for the Russian market, designed to evoke a sense of national status… Kaznacheyskaya is all about pride in Russia.” [Screen grab available upon request.]

    SPI Group is a Major Player in Russian Real Estate

    SPI has significant real estate holdings in Russia. In 2004, it became a major investor in the “Moscow International Business Center,” also known as Moscow-City, a $12 billion development project in Moscow in which it still owns an interest. SPI continues to build in Russia, including residential buildings, office buildings, restaurants, and breweries. Moscow-City (the Mercury City Tower) is also home to Moscow City Hall and the City Duma — the Russian regional parliament in Moscow.

    • Sterling Ericsson says:

      Okay? And?

      I don’t get how a company that does stuff in Russian can’t be pro-LGBT. I would think you would be in support for such a thing, because it increases the likelihood of the company being able to affect the mindset of the Russian populace and change it for the better.

      Having such companies abandon Russia would just be abandoning the LGBT community there.

      • Fenrox says:

        Really? You cant see that the fun article above is WRONG. SPI, is a Russian company that gets money from international sales of Stoli. So if you wanted to boycott a Russian company, Stoli is as good as any. If you don’t then STFU and go boycott something else.

        • Sterling Ericsson says:

          Except you’re boycotting a company that Putin and the Russian government hates. He’s likely clapping his hands over the entire thing, since you’re harming one of his political enemies.

          It makes this boycott actually pro-Russian, not anti-Russian, since you’re not doing anything to Putin at all.

  • DanO says:

    Also, in the rush to justify the boycott on Stoli they pointed out that SPI didn’t have a written LGBT anti-discrimination policy. What they ignored was the reason why they didn’t a written LGBT anti-discrimination policy was because they didn’t have an anti-discrimination policy. On the surface, this would seem bad. But again, it’s comparing a European company to US standards. The reason why they don’t have one is because the EU already provides these protections universally. So most companies don’t have them there. We have them in the US because we are behind the EU in this regard. (Hence why we’re pushing for ENDA.)

  • Douglas says:

    I love the header image of Patsy! She’s holding this thing in her hand, and across it something’s written in big white letters on a red background. It says the same thing in the final GIF. Stoli is the quintessential Russian vodka. Except when that hurts the bottom line. Then it turns out they’ve been lying* about that for years. So we should support them. (*Did I say “lying” of course I meant “marketing.”)

    • DanO says:

      You didn’t read the part where the label hasn’t said Russian Vodka for years, right? That AbFab pic is from the mid90s.

      • Douglas says:

        No, I did read it. I just think it’s ironic that their gay-appeal image selection is as sloppy as sloppy as their writing.

  • Dennis says:

    I’d compare this boycott to Right Wing Christians boycotting Sam Adams beer because Massachusetts has gay marriage. Improperly focus and won’t do any good.
    I’m sure Putin is shaking in his boots now and crying because of all the money that isn’t going to Mother Russia

  • Mark Rutstein says:

    BRAVO! Thank you. Now we can move on and stop looking stupid. Move on!

  • David Ehrenstein says:

    How much did Stoli pay you for this advertisement?

    • BYGays gay@brightestyoungthings.com says:

      Nothing. We actually have a wonderful relationship with Stoli’s rival, so no financial interest here.

  • Will says:

    Unfortunately you do not mention that the DUTCH owned Stoli STILL BUYS ITS INGEDIENTS FROM RUSSIA.

    • DanO says:

      You’d probably also find most of Europe and much of Asia buys grain from Russia as well.

    • DUH WILL says:

      Will did you EVEN READ the article?

    • Anonymous says:

      The article mentioned exactly that. “But, then they complained that Stoli uses some Russian ingredients…just like Coca-Cola uses some Russian ingredients in the products that it sells throughout Russia. Actually, Coca-Cola operates up to 16 plants in the Russian Federation while employing over 13,000 people there (and claiming its supply chain employs up to 130,000 people). But, no one is calling on gays to dump Fanta and Sprite and certainly not Diet Coke.”

  • Anonymous says:

    excellent. well done. bravo byt! (as i sit having my energy drink+stohli pre-monday-painting-session for an exhibition in Provincetown, ma).