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Published: Saturday, 1/22/2005

Budget vodka hits spot with Ohioans

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Ohioans love their booze - especially the cheap stuff.

Last year, statewide sales of spiritous liquors (that's everything but beer and wine) reached a record $571 million or 9.4 million gallons, the Ohio Department of Commerce reported this week. That comes to about $50 for each of the Buckeye State's 11.4 million people. If you omit children under 18, the figure rises to nearly $67 a head and more than a gallon per person.

Leading the list? Kamchatka Vodka, an 80-proof vodka that's made in America, despite its Russian-sounding name. Ohio retailers and wholesalers bought 363,855 gallons of Kamchatka last year, up from 360,295 gallons in 2003, according to Commerce Cepartment figures. The vodka's appeal apparently doesn't lie in its taste. In one Internet poll, the brand ranked 70th of 78 vodkas. Rather, the price is right, said Tom Shea, manager of Joseph Beverage Center on Talmadge Road.

"That's the least expensive vodka there is," Mr. Shea said. "It is a large seller for us."

It's not necessarily that individuals drink it in droves, said Matt Mullins, spokesman for the commerce department. Bars use it in vodka-based drinks, such as screwdrivers, when customers don't specify a brand they want used.

Mr. Shea was not surprised to hear Ohio sales had risen. Sales for the store, which Mr. Shea called the largest retail liquor seller in the state, amounted to $3.4 million last year. That said, he doesn't think Ohioans are necessarily hitting the bottle any harder than those in other states. "I don't think it's any different than any place else," he said.

Also not surprised by rising sales figures was Shawn Kelley of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a national trade association in Washington. Citing, among other factors, a "sustained interest in cocktails," her group's 2004 figures showed a 5.8 percent increase in alcohol dollar sales from 2003. Overall, Americans spent $14.7 billion on booze in 2004.

Despite the No. 1 preference, Ohioans showed more diversity and often, discriminating palates, in some choices. Coming in second to Kamchatka was Jack Daniels #7 Black Label Whiskey, then Bacardi Light-Dry Rum, followed by Jagermeister, a big favorite among younger people, Mr. Shea said. Absolut Vodka ranked fifth, Black Velvet Canadian Whiskey ranked sixth, Jim Beam Straight Bourbon seventh, Captain Morgan Spiced Gold eighth, Korski Vodka ninth, and Seagrams Crown Royal was 10th.

As for Mr. Shea, who has been in the alcohol-sales business for 21 years, his preference would not be on the list.

"I'm getting too old to drink much anymore," he admitted. "A glass of merlot with dinner is fine."

Contact Vanessa Winans at:

vwinans@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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