It might seem a contradiction but vodka can be a dry subject. When you learn that the author of this book, Victorino Matus, is an editor at the extremely conservative Weekly Standard magazine, you might expect it to be a conservative and factual look at the business side of vodka, and how it’s leading to the downfall of American civilization. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a highly entertaining and informative account of, to quote the sub-title, ‘How a Colorless, Odorless, Flavorless Spirit Conquered America.’
From the very first paragraph, about how the colorful former football star Maurice Clarett was pursued by police through Columbus, Ohio, I simply could not stop reading. I raced through it, almost to the end in one evening, and finished it off the next morning. It was as gripping as a thriller. I read the quotes on the back of the book and see I wasn’t the only one:
- ‘I got so absorbed I missed cocktail hour.’ Tucker Carlson, Fox News Correspondent
- ‘A lot of fun to read.’ Award-winning author Michael Ruhlman
- ‘This book will please casual readers and cocktail geeks alike.’ Mark Spivak, author of Moonshine Nation
Out of Nowhere
The book tells the story of how vodka came from almost nowhere to become the USA’s best-selling spirit. The first vodka distillery in the USA was only opened in 1934, and it made Smirnoff. The whole Smirnoff story is itself a fascinating tale, which author Matus uses as background though it’s told in full in Linda Himelstein’s book The King of Vodka.
That 1934 Smirnoff distillery wasn’t a success, but by 1967 vodka had overtaken gin to become the USA’s best-selling clear spirit. In 1976 vodka sales surpassed those of whiskey and it was now the USA’s best-selling spirit. It’s stayed that way for a remarkable 38 years.
So, What’s the Best Vodka?
The first big mover and shaker in the vodka business was Absolut, and Matus devotes a chapter to their remarkable story, including their genius advertising campaigns. Then come the equally fascinating stories of Grey Goose, of Ketel One, and of SKYY. The author also has an intriguing interview with the modern master of vodka marketing, Tito Beveridge.
Anyone who buys vodka regularly should read this book. You’ll learn a lot about what goes on behind your favorite vodka brands, some of which may surprise you. And what you spend on the book you’ll likely save in the future as you change your vodka-buying habits.
What’s the best vodka? Matus is honest enough to say what’s happened in various blind tastings of vodka that he’s done. In one he chose Ketel One over SKYY and all other brands. In another he preferred SKYY over Ketel One. In another tasting organized by Chicago’s Koval Distillery as part of their intensive 3-day distilling seminar, which included Absolut, Svedka and several other top brands, the tasters 100% preferred the budget vodka, Wolfschmidt.
By the way, if you want to read what triggered this book, it was an article Victorino Matus wrote for The Weekly Standard back in 2011 called Vodka Nation.
Buying the Book
I enjoyed this book so much I also had to post a very brief 5-star review on Amazon, where I was delighted to see it had already received several other 5-star reviews. I wasn’t the only one to rate it so highly! I could regale you with entertaining tales taken from the book, but that would only spoil the pleasure of discovering them for yourself.