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Vodka began as rotgut medicine in Medieval Russia, but this neutral grain alcohol has become our uncontested king of spirits, with over 1,000 brands fighting for market share. But it wasn’t always thus. For two centuries, America drank the brown stuff: rum and whiskey. So how did Russia’s “little water” unseat our favorite hooch? Vic Matus takes us on an incredible visual journey from vodka’s humble American origins in a Depression-era Connecticut factory—using the family recipe of a poor Russian exile named Vladimir Smirnov—through its glamorous rise to fame at the hands of James Bond and Sex and the City to today’s craft distillery movement. You’ll see in clear, intoxicating detail how hippie culture, women’s lib, and an absolutely ingenious Swedish company all played their part, transforming the booze into a status symbol. By 1975, the war had ended: Vodka officially became our favorite spirit. Today, a third of all cocktails contain it, and last year 140 million gallons of the stuff racked up $20 billion in sales. Here is the crisply distilled, bracing story of how entrepreneurs defied the odds and turned medieval medicine into a multibillion-dollar industry.
Victorino Matus is senior editor at The Weekly Standard. He has written for the New York Post, Salon.com, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Washingtonian magazine and provided commentary on CNN, NPR, C-SPAN, and The Laura Ingraham Show among others. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his wife and their two children.