Soft drink ZEO has been developed to resemble vodka in taste, but contains no alcohol. Source: Rex Features/Fotodom

The happy hour of Russian drinks in Britain

As Russian beverages become increasingly popular in the UK, The Kompass takes you to the discovery of a world populated by low calories soft drinks, Soviet champagne and fermented milk

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 - 6:45pm
Julia Malkin

This article is not about vodka. In fact, just this once, the alcoholic beverage most often associated with Russia will be left aside to let us answer a simple question – have Russians contributed anything else to the British drinking culture? In fact, good wines, soft drinks and even dairy products hailing from Russia appear to have found their place on the shelves of many shops across Britain.


The fuity drink low in calories  

One of the products that seem to have fared well in the UK market is ZEO – a new kind of soft drink which has been developed to resemble vodka in taste, but contains no alcohol. Using “a secret blend of fruits and botanicals”, the makers of the product created a range of subtle flavours, aimed at refreshing and tingling the tongue. On top of that, it’s all natural and low in calories.

ZEO’s “From the edge of Russia” slogan was promoted through a £5.2m marketing campaign which involved TV and cinema commercials as well as tastings across the country. The brand even succeeded in breaking into the women sports market, becoming a title sponsor for England Netball and the ZEO Netball Superleague. In 2013 ZEO was shortlisted for the Quality Food Awards and can now be found in the most popular supermarkets and department stores, including Harvey Nichols, Ocado and Tesco. 


The fermented milk beverages

One of the main struggles in the life of ordinary Russians in London has always been the scarce availability of those dairy products belonging to their national dietary habits like kefir, prostokvasha and ryazhenka [three different varieties of milk-based drinks]. Luckily, that dark, fermented milk-less era seems to be gone. Three years ago former financier Natasha Bowes launched Bio-tiful, a company producing cultured dairy foods inspired by the Russian tradition on the organic farms of Riverford. Bowes spent a year researching milk-fermentation and looking for the right leaven (she tried almost 20 varieties for kefir only). Her persistence paid off as soon as she presented the final product at the Food & Drink Expo.

In 2013 Bio-tiful got a Gold Star at the Great Taste Awards and the Best Dairy Drink Award at the Global Dairy Congress in Switzerland. Confirmation of the brand’s success also came from some of the most influential stores in the UK, with Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, Harrods, Natural Kitchen and Planet Organic all proudly displaying Bio-tiful dairy bottles. Starting this summer the products will also be available at Ocado,  and Bowes sees expanding the distribution to a national scale as her next target. 


The wines

Russian alcohol seems to be performing well on the UK market, too. At this year’s London Wine Fair Abrau-Durso Wines, a Russian company from the Caucasus region, was awarded 9 medals. Originally a 19th century winery, it once produced iconic Soviet sparkling wines. Half-abandoned in the last decades, it was acquired and brought back to former glory by Boris Titov’s SVL Group in 2006. In 2010 two Abrau-Durso wines – Premium Red Brut Semi-sweet and Imperial Cuvee l’Art Nouveau Brut – were awarded medals at the International Wine & Spirit Competition. Since summer 2011, Abrau-Durso wines have appeared at top London restaurants, such as Sketch, The Waterside Inn and Sumosan. 

The London wine world also sees Russian sellers generate quite a buzz with their extravagant style. Hedonism Wines, a wine and spirits boutique opened two years ago, is the newest project by Russian entrepreneur Evgeny Chichvarkin and turned out to be stunningly luxurious even for Mayfair, where it is located. Chichvarkin gathered there everything he needed – former Harrods buyer Alistair Viner for professional advice, a huge collection of the bottled drinks and a shop online service as quick as a pizza delivery. Despite the fact that the shop stocks bottles as cheap as £15, it mostly attracts wealthy people.