View Full Version : Spirited ‘vodka war’

07-28-2006, 11:24 PM
Heini Alajaaski doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. For her vodka, or viina in Finnish, is mostly about having a good time and not what it's made of. But battle lines have been drawn in a Europe wide “vodka war” as nations wrangle over the definition of the centuries-old spirit. The stakes are high as rival groups fight for dominance in a booming world vodka market worth around $12 billion in annual sales.

Finland is aligned with Poland, Sweden and other traditional vodka producers around the Baltic Sea, who want the European Union to insist that only spirits made with traditional ingredients — barley grain and potato — should be allowed to carry the vodka label.

Pitched against them is a group led by Britain, the Netherlands, France and Austria — and backed by London-based multinational drinks producer Diageo — which take a more relaxed view of what can go into vodka, for example grapes, beets or citrus fruit.

Alajaaski, 23, a bartender at a local watering hole in this industrial town close to the Russian border, says young drinkers who increasingly see vodka as a popular tipple mixed with fruit juice or sodas care little about what's in it.

“I prefer the Finnish vodka for the taste,” she says while drinking a Smirnoff Ice vodka drink on her night off. “Of course some vodka tastes better than others.”

For the traditionalist camp that is the heart of the matter. They argue that vodka's reputation rests on a distinctive flavor and is being undermined by stuff masquerading as the real thing.