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Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Vodka War

There is a vodka war of sorts brewing in Europe. At stake could well be control of the $12 billion world market in the clear spirit.

On one side are the purists in the Baltic Sea region countries that form the cradle of vodka. Producers and politicians from Poland, Finland and Sweden want the European Union to adopt rules that say vodka can only be made from either grain or potatoes. These traditional vodka makers are pointing out one brand in particular, Ciroc, which is made from grapes by drinks industry giant Diageo, as threatening to dilute the heritage of vodka. There are other examples around the world that run afoul of the proposed rule, including Vermont Spirits Gold Vodka made from maple syrup.

On the other side of the argument is a group calling itself the Vodka Alliance of Europe, backed by British, Dutch, French and Austrian companies. They believe it is perfectly OK to allow grapes, beets and citrus fruit to be distilled into vodka.

While vodka can be traced back to Poland in the 1500s, no ancient king ever issued a decree regarding the ingredients allowed in a vodka still. Also, unlike Tequila or Cognac, that are defined as much by geographic boundaries as by ingredients, vodka long ago became a drink with many addresses. Trying to put that genie back in the bottle would be extremely difficult. Look at what Champagne producers go through in constantly arguing that other bubbly is nothing more than a sparkling wine.

Perhaps if they changed the name of the Baltic to the Vodka Sea they would have a better chance.

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