By Kyle | August 30, 2011
Vodka was all but unknown in this country prior to World War II and as late as the 50s it wasn’t a terribly popular drink. It doesn’t offer much in the way of taste. So how did it achieve its dominant position starting in the 1960s? Victorino Matus has a superb piece in The Weekly Standard that answered all of my questions. The most hilarious part is when a guy jealous of Absolut’s success decides, hey, I can call up a distillery in France to make my rotgut, slap a “made in France” label on it, charge twice as much as Absolut and pocket the difference.
It’s really a great advertising story — taking a product that is more or less tasteless (vodka’s official definition is basically that of diluted grain alcohol) — or, even if it isn’t tasteless, has its taste rendered irrelevant by the fact that people almost always mix it with strongly-flavored juices –and branding it as an “aspirational” or luxury product with huge markups. In taste tests, stuff like Smirnoff easily beats the Ketel Ones of the world. It’s also a highly gendered story — vodka, like lite beer, was originally heavily pushed toward women, who saw it as more ladylike than the traditional American brown liquors (and today see it as a calorie-conscious choice). But in the last 20 years, men have become ladies and now shamelessly order concoctions like “Stoli Razz and Sprite.”