Is Russia silently producing vast amounts of whisky? If so, will it ever be seen in the west? These are thoughts from Paul McLean with input from his pal in Moscow; Tim. Paul and Tim have toured Scotland many, many times together, Paul as driver, they are good friends and Tim is much more of an expert than Paul, he also arranges a whisky festival in Moscow and has a great collection of whisky, maybe a book on the way? Meanwhile Paul continues his whisky education taking guests on whisky tours, one other friend worth a mention here is Ingvar Ronde, Paul and Ingvar also doodle around Scotland researching and photographing all to do with whisky! In his latest book; Malt Whisky Yearbook 2019, he states (page 262) Russia is the largest player in the Eastern Europe (non EU) with volumes of whisky going to Poland and Latvia eventually arriving in Russia.

Russian-made whisky appeared in the late 1940s in the USSR and was produced under two brands – “Soviet” and “Whisky-73”. These malts were sold at the price of a cheap brandy, and in taste they resembled a herb-seasoned bourbon. Obviously, nobody went to study whisky technology in Scotland! Nowadays, about 95% of the whiskies sold in Russia have no relation to Russia whatsoever. These are whiskies imported into Russia by a so called bulk, (large tanks) and here they are just bottled there. The duty on bulk alcohol is slightly less than on finished products – around US$ 2 per liter. From a litre of bulk (at strength of 63%) one can get 1.5 litres of diluted commercial whisky, the bottle is cheaper in Russia, the label is cheaper, this saves about 30% compared to importing the finished product from Scotland. Because of this, whisky already occupies around 15% of the Russian alcohol market, and this figure can only grow. The fact is that a drink poured in Russia is nearly half price than in Scotland. Bulk price – from 400 Russian rubles ($6), the average cost of a bottle is 700-800 rubles ($11-12). So far, only two distilleries in Russia produce their own new make spirit. The first one, the Praskovey winery, has been producing its’ own whisky distillates for many years but not in large volumes. They claim to produce a whisky similar to Irish whiskey. The second one is a new whisky production distillery located in Dagestan (Kizlyar city). This place is similar to Scotland in terms of climatic characteristics; a double distillation process is employed there too.   They also pay a great deal of attention to the wood (barrels) management policy to mature their whisky.

A wee bit more research and I stumbled on these bits and bobs; Russia took a first step towards joining the list of whisky making countries when a distillery project in Kaliningrad received the OK to start construction. The $14.6 million project is meant to build a distillery capable of producing 5 million litres of spirit per year and is projected to create 200 jobs between its construction and operation. Praskoveyskoye Distillery in the Stavropol territory. Owner:  Unknown or not registered  – does this mean it’s a government operation? Homepage: Praskoveyskoye  Email:   Spirits produced by Praskoveiskoe JSC are whisky produced from young cognac distillates. Whisky five-year grain “Praskoveysky” is developed from selected barley, which generalizes the centuries-old traditions of Ireland and the experience of Masters of Praskovey brandy production. Obtained by double distillation and aged in oak barrels for more than five years. Whisky grain six-year “Praskoveysky” is developed from barley. Obtained by single fractional distillation and aged in oak barrels for more than six years. Russia’s first whisky distillery to be built in the Kaliningrad region, local news website reported the project was announced by Igor Kudryavtsev, general director of the Alliance-1892 winery and cognac distillery, the company behind the move. Whisky consumption has not fallen in Russia despite the country’s economic recession, according to Kudryavtsev. He said the new product will fulfil up to 35 percent of Russia’s demand for the beverage and will also be exported to India, China, Africa and Latin America but seemingly not Europe or USA. “The distillery will offer a domestically made product, which will be comparable to the world’s best,” Kudryavtsev said. He added that a number of foreign companies have offered to collaborate in the project. Who? The question begs (Diageo by any chance?). Investment in the new distillery will total 13 million euro ($14.6 million). The manufacturing of whisky became possible in Russia only last year after Russia legalized the production of distilled beverages from grain.

Although Russia already has home grown whisky brands, these are based on sourced, imported whisky and not domestic production. The government opened the door to a Russian whisky industry by legalizing production in July 2015. Kaliningrad is a heavily militarized zone nestled between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Seacoast. It was created when the Soviet Union annexed part of the old territory of East Prussia from Germany at the end of the Second World War. Stoli Whisky. A Russian liquor company intends to introduce its own low priced whisky and undercut foreign imports, according to an article that appeared in Kommersant. The single largest constraint for Russians who prefer whisky to vodka has been the crash in the value of the ruble but Russian import bans against the likes of Jack Daniel’s, bourbons and other types of whisky have been a problem as well. According to Eastern European Distribution Company, the new brand will be named “Stoli,” and will be priced at 600 and 650 rubles (roughly $11) per 750 ml bottle. Praskoveiskoye, costs 950 rubles (about $17) a bottle.

Whisky Live Moscow debuted in October 2018 with great whiskies. St Andrews whisky festival is also offering whisky lovers a chance to try many great drams.

My next thoughts; are there more distilleries (whisky) in Russia than we know, and – will there soon be a flood of this heading our way?  PAUL MCLEAN, PERTH 2019