The Chernobyl Spirit Company
- Location Portsmouth & Kyiv
- Working on Regenerating Chernobyl through biodiversity & scientific research
The story of The Chernobyl Spirit Company is one with many layers. Its founders, Gennady Laptev and Jim Smith are scientists who have been studying the land around the Chernobyl power plant for many years.
The area, of course, is famous as the site of the biggest disaster in nuclear history. In 1986, a series of errors and design flaws led to the reactor core melting down and at least two explosions. An exclusion zone of 2600 sq km, or 1000 sq miles has existed around the plant for decades.
This is the area Jim and Gennady had been studying, investigating the transfer of radioactivity to crops both in the main Exclusion Zone (CEZ) and in the Narodychi District within the Zone of Obligatory Resettlement, where land can't officially be used for agriculture, but people still live.
They realised that it was possible to grow crops, in some areas, that were fit for people to eat. They also realised that if produce was put through a process of distillation, then the end product would contain even less radiation (and, as they point out, everything on earth contains at least some radiation).
They began to produce spirits, working with a Ukrainian alcohol manufacturer and using a refined and commercialised version of the home distillation techniques practised in many parts of Eastern Europe. The product they made wasn’t quite a vodka (in fact it had much more taste and character), but it was many times smoother than anything made my amateurs.
They then set up The Chernobyl Spirit Company in their spare time. Their aim was to use the drinks they made as a communication tool - something tangible to help explain their research. They also aimed to invest 75% of their profits to the regions surrounding the Chernobyl plant, saying at the time that they “like many other scientists, believe that what the affected regions need most to improve their wellbeing is jobs, economic development and healthcare. The Chernobyl Spirit Company is trying - on a small scale - to help by beginning to invest in the affected regions and to use 75% of profits to support these regions and the new Chernobyl Biosphere Reserve in the CEZ.”
We began talking to them back in 2021, fascinated by their story. We had already purchased some of their drinks and had agreed to buy more. The only thing that prevented us from putting their spirits straight into our store was the fact we were still in the process of acquiring an alcohol license.
Then, on February 24th of 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. The Chernobyl Spirit Company can no longer produce drinks. The ones we stock at Different Kind were produced and exported prior to the invasion. The Company also now give the 75% profit donation to the Ukrainian Refugee Appeal.
Why they are different
The range made by the Company is small, they produce apple, pear and plum spirits. All owe something to regional drinking traditions but are also crafted with international palettes in mind. These drinks are smooth and the fruit flavours stand out. They are absolutely delicious.
Why they are kind
It’s not kindness to redirect profits when the area you have been working in becomes a war zone. That just feels like the right thing to do. The truly kind thing about The Chernobyl Spirit Company is their longterm goal: quashing myths about the after effects of radiation on land. They point to a 2006 World Health Organisation report that concluded the social and mental health impact was “the largest public health problem created by the accident”.