Mmmm, Russian whisk(e)y

In Russia, it seems, everyone has an angle. Since the fall of the USSR, the battle for the almighty ruble has been going full-bore in many consumer categories. Now, it may cut into the business of Irish and Scottish distillers.

Rival distilleries in the northern Caucasus region have begun making brown spirits, one copying the Scotch model, one the Irish.

The market for such whiskies is there, tripling between 2005 and 2007, while consumption of native vodka, the iconc Russian tipple, has been in a slow but steady decline. The country's National Alcohol Association says vodka sales are so far off that the amount of it warehoused rather than being released to market has hit 82 million liters, up 600% from the prior year.

"Making bad whiskey is a crime," Boris Pakhunov of Praskoveya, a winery (right) in the province of Stavropol that is making the Irish-style whiskey, told the newspaper The Scotsman. "Whiskey, like cognac, is a natural, professionally made, high-quality drink. We would never allow ourselves just to make it any old how."

Whisky of Russia, located in the largely-Muslim Russian republic of Dagestan, is the other whiskeymaker. It is making the Scotch-style spirit.

Some industry watchers say the new whiskies will be more of a curiosity than major sellers since the distilleries in Ireland and Scotland can easily outproduce them. Pricewise, there doesn't seem to be much difference between the Russian expressions and some imports that are major sellers in Russia.

For example, a bottle of Praskoveya whiskey retails for about $12 US,, about the same as a bottle of White Horse, a Diageo blend.

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