Russia is now the world’s second largest market for whiskey, as its consumers increasingly turn away from traditional drinks such as vodka and schnapps. Data from the Irish Whiskey Association shows Russian sales of 605,800 cases, or 7.3 million bottles, for the last recorded year in 2019 — a jump of 231% since 2010. Russia has overtaken the U.K., France, South Africa, the domestic Irish market and only now lags behind the U.S.
Premium brands, such as Jameson, Bushmills, Kilbeggan and Teeling, are proving to be hugely popular in Russia – single malts and cask strength labels taking up a smaller part of the market. There’s no real Russian whiskey manufacturing, most Russian whisky labels are imported and bottled locally.
Apparently, until 2015, though bootleg whisky and moonshine were common in the Russian spirits market, there was no state standard for their legal production in Russia. The only exception was Russian whisky brand Praskoveyskoe, which came up with a “technical specification” for the spirit to gain permission from the Ministry of Agriculture to market it. Once a standard for Russian production of grain distillation was introduced, Russian producers of vodka started talking about “the advent of Russian whisky”, but so far local production doesn’t seem to have taken off.
As for vodka, of course, while it varies from the cheap to the expensive, it doesn’t mature with age like whiskey does, so the real value is often in the packaging rather than the content. The most expensive bottle of vodka is said to be the US$1.35 million Russo-Baltique produced by a car manufacturer in 2008 to mark the centenary of the opening of its factory. Decorated with white and yellow gold, with a diamond-encrusted Russian Imperial eagle at its head, the packaging replicates the radiator of a Russo-Baltic car. The brand-owner claims that Russo-Baltique Vodka is not for drinking because “it is the brand of the vodka to be received by succession” and should be “part of the family artwork collections”.
Russia tried to enter the supercar market with the Marussia B1 and B2 in 2007, planning to sell around 3,000 cars at €100,000 each, but the company went bust in 2014. Now the flagship Russian luxury car is probably the Senat, from Aurus, the company charged by Vladimir Putin with rivalling Rolls-Royce in the executive car market. The Aurus Senat S600 and Senat Limousine L700 were shown in Europe for the first time at the 2019 Geneva motor show. The Senat L700 limo, described as offering “uncompromising level of ballistic and explosive protection”, will serve as Russia’s new state vehicle and was seen in that role at the inauguration of President Putin.
The new brand, which is run by Russia’s Central Scientific Research Automobile and Automotive Engine Institute, known as NAMI, was developed under the instruction of President Putin. He felt it was important that Russia made its own presidential vehicles. Both machines are built on a new Unified Modular Platform developed by Aurus and NAMI. The Senat Limousine uses a 4.4-litre V8 engine jointly developed by NAMI and Porsche, aided by a hybrid electric motor to offer 590bhp and can achieve 0-62mph in less than six seconds. The machine is powered by a nine-speed gearbox.
The interior has been focused on rear passengers, with rear seats that recline to 45deg and are equipped with custom designer downy pillows. There is also a built-in refrigerator with Aurus-branded crystal glasses and fold-out tables with leather trim.
While Aurus is originally planning to produce 150 vehicles a year, a new production facility will expand capacity to 5,000 by 2021, with the option to further increase volume to 10,000 vehicles if there is demand.