HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — As states like North Carolina ban the sale and purchase of Russian-made liquors, a local distillery with locations in Huntersville and Mooresville said the ban could bring more attention to American-made brands.
Jon Murto, the owner and head distiller at Murto Made Distillery, said once the ban was announced, he heard from folks saying it could be beneficial to American-made brands like his.
“When that happened, I have been getting texts messages every other day and probably about 15 of them of everybody being like, ‘This is great, this is great, let’s stop drinking Russian vodka and start drinking local,” Murto said behind his Huntersville bar.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order suspending the ordering, and then selling, of Russian-made spirits from the state’s liquor stores.
Earlier this month, ABC stores across the Charlotte region told Spectrum News 1 the Russian spirits, like Russian Standard and Hammer & Sickle, accounted for little of the stores’ sales.
Their comments on Russian-vodka sales did not surprise Murto, who said the area’s always been supportive of American brands, especially local ones.
“Charlotte’s also like one of those good cities there’s always been a lot of local support,” Murto added.
Murto’s distillery makes vodka, gin and flavored rum. The vodka, which features ingredients from the Carolinas, is what Murto said some customers are starting to look for and ask about when they come to the Huntersville bar.
“Absolutely, and it’s actually had a couple extra people that have come in that I haven’t seen in awhile and have came back,” Murto said.
The conversation is happening in Mooresville, too. On New Year’s Eve, Murto and one of his business partners, Justin Zalewski, opened a second location in downtown.
Zalewski said the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is a topic of conversation and could start influencing customer decisions.
“I think the market space has been strong for the United States. I mean, you have some really strong American brands that are out there. And I really think that a lot of communities at large do support local as it is. But I think we’ll see an uptick in it, obviously. People are proud to support their communities and small businesses,” Zalewski said behind his Mooresville bar, where the company distills its gin.
Since opening in 2018, Murto said his distillery now distills vodka every other week, making an average of 350 bottles. In fact, the company’s growth is continuing as he looks to order more equipment in coming months.
“You know when they talk about being a young entrepreneur, I think it was mainly just wanting to work for myself,” Murto said about the business.
Originally a bartender, he said he fell in love with distilling watching other people do it while on tours at other businesses.
“They start talking about their products, and you’re trying them, and you know, it’s kind of one of those things I’m like — Oh — I’m originally born and raised in Detroit, where they made everything, so it was a chance for me to actually do some manufacturing and make something and create something in your own little bubble, and something that everybody loves, which is good spirits,” Murto added.
Now, as customers go to bars and liquor stores, his brand and many other American-made vodkas might just be someone’s alternative when replacing their go-to Russian spirit.