'Banned in Ontario'

Dan Aykroyd's Crystal Head vodka not stocked in home province

Moira Baird mbaird@thetelegram.com
Published on May 20, 2010
Photo illustration of Crystal Head vodka.

It's bottled in Newfoundland, and the one-millionth bottle rolled out of the St. John's plant earlier this month - but you won't find Dan Aykroyd's vodka on liquor store shelves in Ontario.

Crystal Head vodka is banned there because its distinctive, skull-shaped bottle is an image associated with death and poison and could become popular with young binge drinkers.

It's bottled in Newfoundland, and the one-millionth bottle rolled out of the St. John's plant earlier this month - but you won't find Dan Aykroyd's vodka on liquor store shelves in Ontario.

Crystal Head vodka is banned there because its distinctive, skull-shaped bottle is an image associated with death and poison and could become popular with young binge drinkers.

That's the view of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).

Globefill Inc. - the Ontario company that markets Crystal Head and is partly owned by Aykroyd - doesn't agree.

"It's a little puzzling to us," said Andrew Stodart, managing partner of Globefill.

"It's the board's decision and their stores, and they have to be concerned about what they're concerned about. We respect that, even if we think it's wrong."

Described as a premium vodka, Crystal Head retails in Newfoundland for $49.99 a bottle. Elsewhere in Canada, it sells in the $50 to $60 price range.

"Your average 17-year-old is not going to spend his cash on a $50-bottle of vodka," said Stodart. "They have a number of other products on their shelf that are more youth-oriented than this."

He said the Ontario-born Aykroyd finds the ban amusing.

"Dan loves it.

"He thinks it's a great thing to be able to say it's banned in Ontario - he goes around telling people that all the time. It's a great joke."

And Aykroyd doesn't see anything dark about the crystal skull bottle.

"Our head is light, it's bright, it's smiling, it's happy," Aykroyd told The Globe and Mail this week. "It's not an unhappy head. It's not a menacing head. It doesn't have crossbones under it."

Chris Layton, LCBO spokesman, said the vodka's skull-shaped bottle was a problem for the Ontario liquor board.

"It's an image that's kind of associated with death, and I guess in some cases with death by poison - the old skull and crossbones on bottles and that type of symbolism."

Layton said binge drinking that can result in alcohol poisoning, especially among young people, is a concern for both the LCBO and the responsible drinking groups it deals with.

"We try to strike a balance between the marketing needs of our suppliers and the responsible drinking groups.

"We didn't feel that the skull was a fit with the image that we've tried to cultivate."

Layton said LCBO has also turned down provocative packaging, such as Kalashnikov vodka, featuring a bottle shaped like an AK-47 assault rifle.

"There's a definite connotation of violence to that. That's something that we would see as being off-brand."

Distilled in Ontario, Crystal Skull vodka is blended with Newfoundland water and bottled by the provincial liquor corporation.

Wally Dicks, supply chain vice-president for the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. (NLC), said LCBO is the first to raise concerns about the skull-shaped bottle.

"We haven't heard any other complaints. We think it's a pretty neat package and a great bottle.

"It's a hot item in the United States - California, Florida - and it's hot in other parts of Canada, as well. But most of it is going to the U.S."

In July, Crystal Head moves into the Quebec market.

NLC has a contract to produce the vodka for the next five years in North America.

Eighteen months ago, Crystal Head started rolling out of the NLC bottling plant as a 30,000-bottle project by Aykroyd. One million bottles were produced by May 3.

"We've reached that plateau faster than Grey Goose, Belvedere and other super, ultra premium vodka brands," said Stodart. "It continues to do well."

He said the vodka will soon be available in other skull-shaped sizes - 1.75-litre bottles in a month or so, and mini 50-millilitre bottles by the fall.

"We know people who collect them. We know for a fact that not many of them actually end up in the recycling bin. They seem to get waylaid before they get there."

Stodart said Ontarians can order the vodka by the case from Globefill's Ontario agent, Diamond Estates, or through the LCBO's private stock ordering program.

mbaird@thetelegram.com