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Vodka: A Global History

A Global History
by Patricia Herlihy

Reaktion Books, 2012

Does the word "vodka" derive from the Russian "voda," meaning water, or the Polish "wodka," derived from "woda," or water? Historians from the two countries will argue incessantly on the origins of the world's favorite liquor, which almost certainly originated somewhere in Eastern Europe during  the 14th or 15th century.

This new volume in The Edible Series of Reaktion Books explores how a rather unremarkable liquid -- pure alcohol distilled from grain -- became such a potent spirit, both culturally and economically. Once a humble drink known only to Eastern Europeans, it is now the most popular liquor in both the U.S. and Britain, and probably the world.

Written in an encylopedic tone, the book is thorough and effective, if unremarkable.

Vodka Invasion

Who won the Cold War? Vodka.

Prior to the mid-1970s, vodka lagged well behind the whiskeys in the market for spirits in the U.S. and most other Western nations.

Then came détente and President Richard Nixon's effort to ease geo-political tensions with the Soviet Union

"The President subsequently authorized his good friend Donald Kendall, the Chief Executive Office of Pepsi-Cola, to do business with the Soviets," Patricia Herly explains.

"The American company agreed to help the Soviet government set up a factory with the capacity to produce 74 million bottles of cola a year, using Pepsi's syrup. The cash-strapped Soviets were allowed to pay in vodka.

"PepsiCo, in effect, became the sole American agents for the popular Soviet-produced Stolichnaya Vodka, known widely simply as 'Stoli'... Sales exploded. In 1975, for the first time in history, American vodka surpassed bourbon to become the leading national liquor."

The Soviet Union ultimately collapsed in the 1990s, but the popularity of vodka has continued undiminished.

Crystal Head Vodka Glasses and Bottle
Crystal Head Vodka Glasses and Bottle

Crystal Head Vodka

Since vodka lacks a distinctive taste, its branding is almost entirely marketing... and packaging.

Crystal Head vodka, in a skull-shaped bottle, refers to a legend that thirteen crystal heads have been unearthed from the Yucatan to Tibet at various times. Supposedly, the skulls emit positive energy, good will and prosperity - properties the manufacturer would like consumers to associate with Crystal Head, which is triple-filtered through polished crystals known as Herkimer diamonds so the result is a pure 'spirit,' free of adulterants.

Dan Akroyd, the Canadian actor, TV personality and screenwriter with a strong belief in spiritualism, conceived the idea of this particular vodka, and travels widely to support the $50 bottle.

Vodka Shots

A man walks into a bar and orders six shots of vodka. He lines them up in a row and downs the first glass, then the third glass and finally the fifth glass.

Then he stands up and starts to leave the bar.

“Excuse me,” says the bartender. “But you left three of the glasses of vodka untouched.”

The man replies, “I know… My doctor says it’s okay to have the odd drink.”



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I have discovered The Fountain of Youth and it looks a lot like vodka
I have discovered The Fountain of Youth and it looks a lot like vodka
Sean Connery as James Bond prepares a Vodka Martini
Sean Connery as James Bond prepares a Vodka Martini

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