In Russia, the land of vodka, kosher brand helps quench thirst.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
thing to do with the
Jewish culture and tradi-
tion. "They trust this
product because kosher
odka has long been a cornerstone of
certification stands for
Russia's identity. Now Yevreskaya Vodka
the product purity, high
— or Jewish Vodka — is succeeding with
quality and its compli-
Russians by emphasizing Jewish religion
ance with the centuries-
old Jewish tradition,"
Yevreskaya sells in Moscow at about $2 for a pint
— a medium-priced vodka by local standards. The
However, some shop-
Urozhai distillery, located in a village five miles out-
pers may be buying
side of Moscow, first put Yevreskaya on the market
Yevreskaya for more prac-
six years ago. Sales have been brisk since then, dis-
tical reasons. Galina
tillery managers say.
Belyaeva, a pensioner, was
"This is one of our most popular brands," says
shopping recently for
Valery Gorbatenkov, brand director of the dfstillery.
New Year's gifts at the
Urozhai also makes cheaper brands and some premi-
um vodkas that compete for the high end of the
ket in downtown
Moscow. She selected a
Yevreskaya is the distillery's only brand produced
hair dryer for her daugh-
under rabbinical supervision.
Elena Samoilova, an expert at the Urozhai distillery, tests new vodka formulas at
ter, a small Lego set for
There are several other kosher vodkas produced by her 6-year-old grandson
the plant's laboratory.
a distillery in Birobidzhan — which Stalin declared
and a bottle of Yevreskaya
an autonomous Jewish region in 1934 — but none
for her son-in-law, the only Jewish member of the
a visitor of the product made inside.
sell as well as Yevreskaya. In fact, most rabbis agree
Gorbatenkov proudly points to dozens of huge
that all unflavored vodkas are kosher.
"He doesn't drink much — a drink or two on hol- tanks that contain up to 1 million quarts of grain
"People like to buy kosher vodka, though many
idays — but I'm sure he'll like the gift," she says.
spirit ready to be distilled into vodka — kosher and
people would buy vodka without kosher supervision,"
"He is Jewish — so I guess this is his vodka."
says Moscow's chief rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, who
Gera Benkovich, a Moscow businessman, credits
"Many people believe that vodka is a basic drink,
issues kosher certification for Yevreskaya.
himself with the idea that launched Yevreskaya. A
very easy to produce," he says. "This isn't so, and we
The most popular unflavored brands of Russian
few years ago, he noticed that a guest at a ?arty he
put much technological efforts and innovation into
vodka — such as Stolichnaya or
was attending, an Orthodox
the production cycle::
Kristal — are kosher, although they
rabbi, didn't drink the vodka
Yevreskaya is part of a kosher industry in Russia
are not marked as such when sold
that was being served. "I realized
that is still going through some growing pains.
domestically. The bottles produced
that some Jews just wouldn't
Kosher production in Russia just recently began,
for the North American market fea-
touch a product if it has no rab-
Berel Lazar, one of Russia's two chief rabbis, said in
ture the Orthodox Union's kosher
binical supervision," Benkovich
an interview. Most of the kosher products sold at
says. So he suggested the idea of
Russian stores are not marked as such, so kosher-
Yevreskaya features its rabbinical
a kosher brand to a Jewish
conscious customers have to rely on information
approval and "Jewish content" as
friend, Yuri Manilov, president
provided by Jewish organizations.
part of its marketing strategy. The
of the Urozhai distillery.
While there is growing interest in kosher certifica-
words "Jewish" and "kosher" are the
Like all unflavored brands,
tion among Russian producers, the products that
central elements of the bottle's
Yevreskaya is made from grain
carry stamps of kashrut are usually intended for
design. The black labels are laden
spirits and spring water. At the
export. Baltika, Russia's largest brewery, recently
with Jewish symbols and imagery —
traditional 40 proof, it is mel-
announced it is going to receive kosher certification
Jewish Vodka produced by the
Hebrew letters, a menorah, a photo
lower than some other brands in
for some of its beers that are sold in Israel.
Urozhai distillery near Moscow.
of the interior of the Moscow
its category, the distillery work-
Lazar recently helped set up a company called
Choral Synagogue and another
ers say, because of one ingredient Kosher Russia to offer kosher certificates for a vari-
photo of an Orthodox rabbi and a Jew in a white
not found in most other vodkas: dry bread extract
ety of foods produced domestically.
yarmulke standing next to the portrait of the late
— kosher, of course — purchased through a
While the certification is intended to satisfy the
Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
needs of Russian Jewish customers, the production
Gorbatenkov says the distillery is not concerned by
of kosher vodka is really more about quenching peo-
statistics, provided by Russian rabbis, suggesting that
ple's curiosity and boosting sales. "We have noticed
only about 5 percent of Russian Jews keep kosher:
such an interest in our kosher production that we
"We market this vodka to a broader group of cus-
On a recent weekday, it is empty and quiet inside
have started thinking about expanding this line,"
tomers, not necessarily Jewish," says Gorbatenkov.
the distillery production facilities — several two-
Few people in Russia know what the word
story buildings behind a concrete fence. Only a
The distillery recently registered its rights to a new
"kosher" means, but many are aware it has some-
strong smell in some of the distillery's shops reminds vodka label — appropriately called UChaim.