In commemoration of Harvey Milk Day yesterday, vodka brand Stoli released a special limited-edition bottle with the historic gay activist’s likeness slapped on it. A yet-to-be-determined percentage of the Stoli Vodka Harvey Milk bottle’s sales will benefit the San Francisco-based Harvey Milk Foundation, an organization focused on LGBTQ education and coalition building, founded and run by Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk.
In addition to the bottle, yesterday Stoli also unveiled a mural of Harvey Milk in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, where the slain civil rights leader lived. The mural and bottle design were both created by Paraguayan artist Oz Montania. The mural appears on the side of The Cafe gay nightclub, located on the corner of Market and Castro, visible from the Harvey Milk Plaza nearby.
The Bay Area Reporter says, “Stoli said it made ‘a significant donation’ to the Harvey Milk Foundation for its permission to release the special Milk bottles this year … and continues to fundraise for the nonprofit. The auctioning off of bottles at recent East Coast fundraisers netted more than $10,000.”
It was only five years ago that numerous gay bars and political activists encouraged people to dump Stoli and other Russian vodkas after the country passed a 2013 federal law banning so-called gay propaganda. At the time, the Chairman of Stoli Group USA Stoli John Esposito issued a statement saying, “We stand with the LGBT community and we share the same desire for justice and equality.”
People continue to consider Stoli “a Russian company,” partly because it long marketed itself as a Russian vodka, its ingredients are raised and partially processed in Russia and a Russian-owned company has rights to the Stoli brand name in several European countries (including Russia). But the company behind this Stoli Vodka Harvey Milk bottle is Stoli Group USA, a North American subsidiary of Luxembourg-based SPI Group which, the company says, isn’t affiliated with the Russian government (yet was founded and is owned by Russian billionaire Yuri Shefler).
SPI Group finishes the processing and bottling of Stoli vodka in Latvia. Its bottles are from Poland and Estonia, its caps from Italy, The New York Times reports.
According to Forbes, Stoli has championed gay issues since the ’90s and has donated more than $1 million from 2012–2017 to more than 30 LGBT and allied groups around the United States. It also promotes Stoli Key West Cocktail Classic, the world’s largest annual LGBT bartending competition, which helps bring business to local gay bars around America.