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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Smirnov vs Smirnoff: Round II

Within the next few days, Muscovites will be the judges in a contest between two rival distillers as to which Smirnov - or Smirnoff - vodka is real and which is an impudent impostor.


In a battle that has raged in patent courts in Russia and abroad, descendants of Pyotr Smirnov, supplier of vodka to the Russian czars, have disputed the right to use the Smirnov name with Heublein Inc. , the distributor of Smirnoff, America's best-selling vodka.


But now Pyotr Smirnov and Descendants have made their own Genuine Smirnov Vodka, and the first 6, 000-bottie shipment will be distributed to Moscow shops this week.


The new vodka will face a host of obstacles. Mayor Yury Luzhkov late last year banned the sale of all Russian-produced alcohol from street kiosks, a major outlet for alcoholic drinks. So while Smirnoff can sell in kiosks, Smirnov cannot.


Another problem is a decision handed down a month ago by the Moscow office of Rospatent, the Russian patent authority, on which firm had the right to use the Smirnov name in Russia.


Vladimir Nikolayev, marketing manager for Pyotr Smirnov and Descendants, said that Rospatent, by not turning down Smirnoff's request to register its trademark, clearly wanted the U. S. company to be here.


But he contended that sales of the new rival vodka would benefit from the controversy.


"This scandal has played into our hands", he said.


The new Smirnov Vodka will sell for about 1, 500 rubles in Moscow for a 0. 61-liter bottle, compared with $10 for a 1-liter bottle of the Western-produced Smirnoff. Ordinary Russian-made vodka sells for about 350 rubles for a half-liter bottle. The Smirnov descendants have gone to some trouble to make their vodka look different from Smirnoff. The Russian bottle is based on the original bottle in use when the Smirnov factories were nationalized after the 1917 revolution. As in the 19th century, the contents of the bottle are not described as "vodka" but as "table wine".


A prelaunch test revealed that the Russian Smirnov is much closer in taste to other Russian-made vodkas than it is to American brands.


Nikolayev said that the brew was made according to a traditional pre-revolutionary recipe. He added that Pyotr Smirnov and Descendants had plans to produce all 300 blends of liquor which had once been made by the house of Smirnov.


Smirnoff has tried to build an image in Russia by advertising on national television and co-sponsoring the United Team of the Commonwealth of Independent Sates and Georgia at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.


Tatyana Fomina, a great-granddaughter of Pyotr Smirnov, said Monday that Pyotr Smirnov and Descendants had its own plans to recreate the charity work of the merchant house of Smirnov.


She said a percentage of the profits would be set aside for the creation of a charity fund, adding that some money had already been given to children's homes.