The name itself means ‘for the capital’ and the official recipe for this vodka was patented in 1938.
Matthew is paying a visit to Dublin to promote the brand at a number of licensed premises around this capital including Darkey Kelly’s, The Exchequer, The Oval, Dice Bar and Ollie’s in Skerries, the Vintage Cocktail Club, The Westin Hotel’s Mint Bar and The Bank as well as the Trinity, the Poitin Stil and the Foggy Dew.
We meet in the Marker Hotel to review the brand together.
So what’s different about ‘Stolichnaya – the original’ or “StOli” as the Americans would deem it?
“It’s the grain that we use,” Matthew expands, “It’s distilled three times and the vodka must be 40%.”
And it must be grain. The Russians don’t regard Ciroc, for example, as a vodka, made as it is from grapes not grain, he says.
But what really differentiates Stoli is that it’s made exclusively from Alpha grade spirit, the highest quality distilled spirit according to Russian state standards. The classification was introduced by the Russian authorities in 2006 to recognise the quality achieved by Talvis, the distillery that produces the spirit for Stoli vodka.
Stolichnaya now sells around 3.5 million cases worldwide and has a global brand share of about 4%.
“Price is not an issue any more so our main competitor at the moment would be Ketel One since we’re a premium vodka,” he claims.
But hasn’t vodka lost a lot of ground to gin?
“Vodka is making a turnaround of late. After gin there was rum and now it’s coming back to vodka drinks” he claims, “especially the Old School cocktails like the Moscow Mule which is easy to make and which can be made in a ‘crafty’ way.”
Flavoured vodka extensions
Craft vodkas are nothing new to Stolichnaya. It was the first to produce flavoured vodka way back in 1962 with its honey & herb and its pepper flavours which were re-released in 2012 as Stoli Stiki and Stoli Hot respectively.
Stoli has also upped the ante in terms of quality niche presence over the years.
“We were the first to go super-premium in 1989 with Stoli Gold and in 2003 we introduced the ultra-luxury vodka in Elit by Stolichnaya,” he says, adding, “Elit is an important brand for us. This is one of the highest-graded white spirits in the world scoring 97 out of 100 for four years now.”
Another claim to fame: Stoli became the first vodka in space when it was part of an exchange of gifts with American cosmonauts and it was the first Russian vodka to be exported to the US in 1973.
Stoli is now “massive” in the US, its largest market, growing sales ever since Pepsi agreed to distribute it back in the 70s.
“It’s the brand call there,” claims Matthew.
Stoli at the bar in Ireland
So what should the on-trade here be aware of about Stoli?
“Stolichnaya gives a bar its identity,” he answers, “It affects how it’s seen by its customers. The reason a lot of bars are going for Stoli in London is that they want to offer a maximum of just three premium brands rather than providing a huge amorphous selection. After all, some bars specifically don’t stock certain brands. Others stock 20 vodkas for the sake of emphasising how big their back bar is.”
And with that, he takes his leave to get to the airport, heading off to London to focus on some of the high-end bars there where he’ll continue to emphasise the significance of Stoli to the on-trade