It's as Russian as Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and the Siberian steppe but vodka has a new challenger as the world's fourth-heaviest drinking nation's spirit of choice. This month, Beam, which owns Jim Beam and Maker's Mark, has become the latest distiller to announce that it hopes to double its whisky sales there. .
Beam has been a little slow off the mark though; single malts Glenfiddich and Glenivet, and blends such as Johnny Walker Black Label are already among the country's most popular drinks. Last year whisky imports grew by a staggering 48 per cent
The Western drinks cabinet favourite's new-found popularity partly stems from its novelty to Russian drinkers. A state monoply had restricted its availability since the days of the Tsar (that didn't stop KGB henchman sipping imported Ballantine's in the Soviet era) and it was only when Boris Yeltsin lifted the monopoly in 1992 that the drink took off.
The average Russian drinks 15 litres of spirits a year, with vodka obviously being the most popular choice, but that hasn't stopped President Putin slapping a 30 per cent tax hike on strong liquor as part of tough crackdown on booze. The strongman is reported to never touch the hard stuff himself. Perhaps, unlike his citizens, he knows that drink and long, dark winters don't mix well.