Bunhill: His Notes

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Even more bizarre news on the trade front comes from a French company, which said on Wednesday it had won a contract to export vodka to Russia.

Caves Byrrh, a subsidiary of Pernod-Ricard, said it had delivered a third of the 3 million litres ordered by Moscow for August and September.

Alain Palisse, director of Caves Byrrh, better known for making a bitter-tasting aperitif, said his firm had developed a new vodka, brand-named Petroff, to meet Russian tastes.

'The funniest thing is that Pernod-Ricard imports Stolichnaya vodka manufactured in Riga in the former Soviet Baltic republic of Latvia,' he said.

Sources in Moscow said there appeared to be no shortage of vodka but it was being sold at prices that many Russians could not afford - about 150 roubles (60p) for a half-litre bottle on street stalls.

They said the problem was often less a shortage of vodka than a lack of bottles and spare parts for bottling equipment.

Enough to drive one to drink, in fact.