Vodka and Russia go together like dive bars and Boilermakers. The neutral spirit is a $40 billion industry in Russia, and the American portrayal of Russians often involves drinking vodka fast and in large quantities. This could lead you to believe that Russian vodka is a big deal in America. But in reality, Russian vodka isn’t what Americans turn to first when buying imported vodka. It doesn’t even make the top five.
According to alcohol import reports from the Distilled Spirits Council, Russia is only the eighth largest vodka importer to the U.S. by volume, and the seventh by dollar amount. The country with arguably the strongest association with vodka sells less vodka in the U.S. than countries that many Americans would have trouble pointing to on a map.
The total amount of vodka imported to the U.S. from Russia in 2017 was 555,845 proof gallons (a liquid gallon of spirit at 50 percent alcohol by volume, making a standard 40 percent ABV bottle around .8 proof gallons). The U.S. imported 39,001,202 proof gallons of vodka total in that time frame, meaning Russian vodka makes up only around 1.4 percent of foreign vodka in the U.S. According to the Distilled Spirits Council import volume numbers, the countries ahead of Russia by volume are:
Sweden: 14,304,340 proof gallons, or 37 percent of total vodka imports.
France: 9,203,091 proof gallons, or 23 percent of total vodka imports.
The Netherlands: 4,359,949 proof gallons, or 11 percent of total vodka imports.
Poland: 2,982,358 proof gallons, or 7 percent of total vodka imports.
Latvia: 2,913,510 proof gallons, or 7 percent of total vodka imports.
United Kingdom: 2,249,924 proof gallons, or 5.8 percent of total vodka imports.
Finland: 587,981 proof gallons, or 1.5 percent of total vodka imports.
Russia faired only slightly better in the country rankings when the value of the vodka is taken into account. Total U.S. dollar amount of vodka imported in 2017 was $1,397,794,963. Russia accounted for $16,212,234 of that, or around 1.2 percent. That bumped it ahead of Finland, but left it far behind the six other top countries. According to the Distilled Spirits Council import value numbers, the countries ahead of Russia by value are:
France: $548,713,297, or 39 percent of total vodka import value.
Sweden: $252,740,216, or 18 percent of total vodka import value.
Netherlands: $244,094,358, or 17 percent of total vodka import value.
Latvia: $134,188,498, or 10 percent of total vodka import value.
United Kingdom: $75,388,030, or 5 percent of total vodka import value.
Poland: $69,952,755, or 5 percent of total vodka import value.
The numbers show that it’s not just countries in the “Vodka Belt” of Eastern Europe that are ahead of Russia. Some of the big brands from the major importing countries are Stolichnaya from Latvia, Absolut from Sweden, Finlandia from Finland, Chopin and Luksusowa from Poland and Ketel One from the Netherlands. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that France, on the back of unlabeled bulk vodka and major brands like Ciroc and Grey Goose, is where Americans turn to most when thirsty for some neutral spirit. Maybe it’s time to start thinking of France, not Russia, as the home of vodka.