When it comes to launching small-batch novelty booze, there’s bad timing, and then there’s Bristol Dry Gin timing. As the Bristol, England-based distillery excitedly Instagrammed its newest product, a 44-year-old woman was dying from the same chemical it commemorated on its label.
On Saturday, Bristol Gin posted a picture of six bottles of its Novichok Vodka, which it named for a powerful nerve agent used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. “Our new limited edition vodka is out,” Bristol wrote on Facebook and Instagram. “Set at 75%, this smooth drinking spirit is no laughing matter. Available as a 35cl bottle, perfect for manbags [sic] and gym bottles, or as a pack of three 5cl minis, a great solution to body cavity searches.”
While Bristol Gin pressed “Post” on its picture, 44-year-old mother of three Dawn Sturgess was in critical condition in a hospital in Salisbury—just 60 miles away. She died from suspected Novichok poisoning the next day. (Sturgess’ partner, Charlie Rowley, remains “critically ill,” according to Bristol Live.)
“Not sure this is really appropriate,” one Bristol resident tweeted to Bristol Gin, shortly after its Novichik launch.
“Which bit? The body cavity search bit, the skull bit or the whole thing?” the company replied. In the Twitter thread, Bristol said that it was unaware that anyone had died from Novichok and that conceded that maybe it shouldn’t have released the booze. That sentiment lasted for literally less than 15 minutes: it then posted a .gif of a cat twitching its tail. “Enough facts, seriousness, and dubious opinions (including ours) Back to what the internet was made for…” it said.
But by Monday, Bristol Gin had released a significantly less flippant statement. “Novichok Edition has been in development for some time, and was only named and released after the Skripals had recovered,” the distillery wrote. “It was intended to lighten the mood and ease tensions, not to cause offense, and reaction has been overwhelming positive. We sincerely apologise if any offense was caused, especially to the families of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, and understand the timing of the release of this product may have lacked sensitivity.”
It also added that the vodka had sold out (uh, nice work?) and that it would not be produced again in the future. Well, at least not in England: Novichok vodka went on sale in Russia in April, shortly after the Skripals were poisoned.
Its name is also being used on products throughout the country, including T-shirts, coffee, a craft beer, at least one specialty cocktail, and a brand of vegetable oil.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin, told the BBC that Russia was “deeply concerned” about the most recent poisoning, but said it was “absurd” to assume that the country was involved.