Allied Domecq is facing the prospect of competing with a rival Stolichnaya brand on the US market, after Russian distilleries backed by the Russian Ministry of Agriculture awarded the distribution rights to their supplies of the brand to Kryshtal International in North and South America.

Allied Domecq currently distributes Stolichnaya in the US under licence from Soyuzplodimport (SPI). SPI is a Russian vodka company that claims to own the full rights to the world famous vodka, but which is in a heated legal battle with the Russian state for those rights.

SPI bought the rights for Stolichnaya in the 1990s but almost ever since has been in a fight with the Russian Ministry of Agriculture which claims the rights were acquired illegally and too cheaply.

Allied Domecq won the US distribution rights for Stolichnaya from SPI in 2000. SPI for its part has always maintained its acquisition of the Stoli trademark was legal and fully above board.

But speaking to just-drinks, Ronald Matheson, a spokesman for Kryshtal International, a distribution company specialising in vodka and based in Newburyport in the US, said that his company had been awarded the distribution rights for Stolichnaya produced by a number of Russian distilleries "who are licensed to produce it by the Russian Food Ministry."

Although SPI havs been selling Stolichnaya abroad for some years, it is still produced by a number of different distilleries around the country.

Kryshtal hopes to launch its version of Stolichnaya "soon but that will depend on our attorneys, potential lawsuits by all involved and the selection distributors in the USA and elsewhere," Matheson said.

"We are not a large company and we are pitted against some of the largest corporations in the world who have deep pockets and numerous resources available. Our program is to bring in most if not all the distilleries that manufacture Stolichnaya in Russia," he continued.

Matheson said he expected there would be a period where the two alternative vodka brands were available in the US at the same time. "But it is going to be a legal battle, there is no doubt about that. They (Allied Domecq and SPI) are not just going to lay down the trademark rights."

A spokeswoman for Allied Domecq told just-drinks: " We are very relaxed with where we sit right now. We are trying to ascertain what the reality is. We have a contract in place and that hasn#;t changed."

Following recent court battles between SPI and the Ministry of Agriculture over the ownership of Stolichnaya vodka, the Russian government, it was reported on Monday, is withholding stocks of the spirit currently awaiting departure for the US and UK, among other export markets.

The blockade on exports from the Kaliningrad factory has already affected supplies to the UK market but Allied said earlier in the week that it had plenty of stocks in the US, for it not to be an issue.