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Russia bans subpar bourbon Kentucky Gentleman, leaves rest of wine/spirits sector alone

by David Serchuk

Pick your poison?

Pick your poison?

Russia is talking awfully tough when it comes to banning imports of U.S. food and beverage products, but for one sector: wine and spirits. Yes, the Russians are drawing the line there, according to a new report from Tass, the Russian governmental news agency. Except for one particular American brand, and a bourbon at that: Kentucky Gentleman.

First the backstory to all this, as reported by the Associated Press on Aug. 6: “Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hit back hard against countries that have imposed sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, ordering trade cuts that an official said would include a ban on all imports of agricultural products from the United States.”

Clearly spirits and wine fall into this category, as they are made from agricultural products like corn, wheat and the like. Yet they remain sanction-free.

Here is a report Tass issued Aug. 7: “Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signs government resolution banning imports from Australia, Canada, EU, US and Norway for one year. Alcohol does not fall under ban on imports of food to Russia from EU and US.”

Clearly the brains in the Kremlin thought this one through pretty carefully, realizing they’d have civil unrest the likes of which would make the fall of the Iron Curtain look like an afternoon stroll in Sochi.

Here is how the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service said it, in a May 2014 report that highlighted exactly what and how much the Russians drink (hint: a lot): “It is well known that Russians like to drink alcohol. According to Euromonitor, Russians are the second largest hard alcohol drinkers in the world with per capita consumption reaching 6.3 shots per week.”

Apparently Russians, despite their long history with vodka, are also pretty open-minded about their booze, and have become a fast-developing market for U.S. spirit exports. In 2013, the USDA reported, U.S. spirits exports to Russia hit a record $124 million, up 19 percent vs. 2012.

(Incidentally, Kentucky’s spirits-related exports to Russia are rising but not for what you might imagine. For 2014, January-through-June, Kentucky spirits exports to Russia hit $504,000 up 88 percent versus the same period the year before. And the majority of 2014’s exports were composed of … grape brandy, at $435,000. Yes, grape brandy.)

Anyway, it makes sense the Russians are keeping U.S. booze off the table as they go about their rounds of largely symbolic and mostly self-harming negotiations. To do otherwise would be to invite revolution.

Still, there is one exception to all this. The Russians have decided Kentucky Gentleman bourbon, which is about as bottom shelf as it gets, should be banned.

Rospotrebnadzorm, a Russian consumer protection agency, explained why, in an Aug. 4 public statement. I put their statement into Google translator, and encourage you to read it with a heavy Russian accent:

“So, whiskey Kentucky Straight BOURBON ‘Kentucky GENTLEMAN’ production ‘Barton 1792 Distillery’ (USA) did not pass the state registration in compliance with the technical regulations of the Customs Union … Also in that alcoholic drinks found phthalates, which are capable of producing functional and further organic changes in the central and peripheral nervous system, the endocrine system, as well as cancer and infertility problems in men and women.”

In other words, if you drink too much of it, you get really drunk.

Should we be concerned? After all, Russia is not exactly known as a hotbed of regulatory activity. And what are these phthalates?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are used in hundreds of products, such as vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, plastic clothes (raincoats), and personal-care products (soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes).

Our advice: Until this all clears up consider drinking any of the dozens of other bourbons available at any given moment. That’s what the Russians are doing.

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