In late February, when bars, restaurants, supermarkets and liquor stores pulled Russian-made vodkas from their shelves, they did so to help pressure Vladimir Putin to withdraw from Ukraine.

In a rare show of bipartisan support for any idea, governors from Alabama, Iowa, Maine, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and West Virginia called on their states’ liquor control agencies to delist Russian-made vodka. Gov. Janet Mills requested that “retailers join us in this symbolic but clear sign that Maine stands with Ukraine.”

In the aftermath of those announcements, social media posts showed vodka drinkers pouring bottles of Stoli and Smirnoff down the drain. Since neither brand is Russian made (the former is produced in Latvia by an exiled Putin critic, and the later might have been made in Moscow in 1864 but is now made in Britain by a British conglomerate), I was dubious Putin would feel any fiscal pain from the boycott. While emblematic of how consumers can show distain for conditions they find hard to swallow, these measures, liquor industry watchers say, were largely as Mills described: symbolic.

Imports of Russian vodka to America in 2021 accounted for only 1.3 percent of all vodka imports, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Their combined value was $18.5 million, merely a drop in the $1.4 billion bucket of total vodka imports from France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Latvia. And it’s insignificant when you consider that Americans are expected to spend $22 billion on vodka in 2022.

If you’re a vodka drinker in Maine, passing on Russian-made Beluga Vodka, Hammer & Sickle Russian Vodka, Moskovskaya or Russian Standard is no sacrifice. Consider your many local options: at least a dozen Maine companies make from scratch, distill and/or bottle plain and flavored vodkas.

Batson River Brewing & Distilling makes Clock Farm Vodka in small batches in Kennebunk. Chadwick’s Distillery in Pittston recently expanded its line of maple-based spirit to include vodka. Blue Barren Distillery in Hope offers an 80-proof plain vodka and another flavored with Maine sugar kelp. Cold River Vodka is made from Maine potatoes in Freeport.

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Liquid Riot Distilling Co. starts its Well… Vodka with a neutral grain spirit base produced in another, more efficient facility, and then passes the spirit through its own tiny, less efficient still in Portland to clean it up and add character. Maine Craft Distilling’s Black Cap Vodka, made from Maine grains and filtered through Maine black tourmaline and charcoal-fired maple, is named after our state bird, the Black Capped Chickadee (or is it?). Twenty 2 Vodka, bottled since 2009 by Northern Maine Distilling in Brewer, has racked up many national awards for its neutral taste.

Split Rock Vodka starts life as New England corn, which is mashed, fermented and thrice distilled before being diluted with well water and bottled in the company’s facility in Newcastle. Stone Fort Distillery owners Eric and Jenn Bouchard are also involved in every step of making their grain-to-glass vodka in Biddeford. Stroudwater Vodka, made in Portland from a naturally gluten-free corn base, is distilled eight times to be 190-proof and then diluted to 80-proof with Maine water before it is bottled. Sazerac Company, a beverage conglomerate based in New Orleans, bottles vodka brought in from out of state at its facility in Lewiston and sells it under the Mr. Boston brand name. Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York offers Maine’s more southerly made vodka.

“Across the U.S. spirits market, vodka is king because it’s consumed in so many different ways,” said Jeremy Howard, founder of Blue Barren Distillery.

There is no total figure for the amount of vodka being distilled in Maine. But if the quantity is an unknown, the quality is clear as vodka. “I am biased, of course,” Howard said, “but I do think Maine craft distillers have a very strong vodka game.”

Maine vodka is a sustainable prospect on several fronts. First, the process requires local agricultural products, from the corn and grain used to make the base alcohol to the blueberries and seaweed used to flavor  it.

Next, it is a spirit with a very short turnaround time. “As distillers, we have romantic ideas about the spirits we age in a barrel for 18 months. But we also can’t generate income off those as they sit,” Howard said. Vodka, which takes as little as three weeks to make, gives craft distilleries a steady cash flow to sustain their bottom lines.

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Topher Mallory, co-owner of Split Rock Distillery, says vodka is one of the more labor-intensive spirits his company makes. “But that means more hours of work, more jobs, so that’s a good thing for the Maine economy, too.”

Mallory acknowledges that the distilling process can be energy intensive but says his company tries to offset some of its production footprint by donating the alcohol-free spent grains from its distilling processes to local farms for livestock feed.

You can buy all Maine craft vodkas in their respective distillery tasting rooms. Most are also available at large liquor stores like Bootleggers, Damon’s, Bow Street Beverage and RSVP, and many can be found at Hannaford, too. The price runs roughly $18 to $40.

Prices for locally made vodka are within $1 to $3 of those of large commercial brands, according to Jake Bosma, a tasting room manager at Stroudwater Distillery. “Plus, most have a more unique taste. So why not spend a little more to support local small businesses and keep those extra dollars flowing around the local economy?”

The top five selling vodka brands in Maine are Tito’s (made in Texas), Pinnacle (once made in Lewiston but now made in Kentucky), Smirnoff in the plastic bottle (a UK brand distilled in Illinois), Crown Russe Vodka (made in Kentucky) and Absolut (made in Sweden), according to data from the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations.

As locavores, we can do better. Make your next vodka purchase a local one.

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Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

The Mifflin Martini, garnished with spicy DIY vermouth-brined olives.  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Mifflin Martini

Jake Bosma, a tasting room manager at Stroudwater Distillery, developed this twist on a dirty martini. To make vermouth-infused olives, drain half the brine from a jar of Spanish olives. In its place, add 3-4 crushed garlic cloves, a few sprigs of thyme and sage, a couple each of lemon and orange peels and either black peppercorns or a dried chili. Top off the jar with Dolin Dry Vermouth and let the olives sit in the brine for 12-24 hours in the refrigerator.

Makes 1 cocktail

1 ½ ounces flavored vermouth/olive brine mix
2 ounces Stroudwater Vodka
Olives and sprigs of sage and thyme, for garnish

Combine the vermouth/brine mix and vodka with lots of ice in a shaker. Stir until the drink is somewhat diluted and very cold. Strain into a frosted coup or martini glass. Garnish with the vermouth-brined olives, sage and thyme.

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Raspberry Vodka Birthday Bubbly. Happy 21st, Eliza! Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Raspberry Vodka Birthday Bubbly

I developed this cocktail for my daughter Eliza’s 21st birthday, which is on April 8. Like her, it’s sweet, stylish and sophisticated.

Makes 1 cocktail

2 ounces Maine-made vodka
1 ounce Royal Rose raspberry simple syrup
1 ounce lemon juice
Club soda or prosecco
Fresh raspberries and a lemon twist, for garnish

Combine the vodka, simple syrup and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. Shake well and pour into a glass with ice. Top off with the club soda or prosecco. Garnish with fresh raspberries and a lemon twist.


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