I just wrote a long story about the US vodka trade for a UK magazine. It's the first time I've ever really done an all hard-numbers story (about booze, that is). It was kinda fun.
Anyway, I mentioned it to Greg Boehm of Mud Puddle Books and he sent me a similar story from 1954.
Sale Up 50 Per Cent
'Moscow Mule' Sells Vodka
By ROBERT ZIMMERMAN
NEW YORK - It all started about eight years ago when a Los Angeles bartender
poured a shot of vodka into a glass of ginger beer and called it a Moscow
His customers liked it. They started sampling other drinks mixed with
vodka, which at that time had a rather mysterious reputation as the stuff
Russian stow away in huge quantities at official banquets.
Since then a small but fast-growing band of U.S. vodka drinkers has kept
the country's few vodka plants working overtime. The United States no soaks
up more vodka each year than any country outside the Iron Curtain. In Los
Angeles, sort of a headquarters of the vodka movement, more is sold than in
the rest of the free world put together.
The vodka book has given rise to the vodka martini, the vodka Collins and
the vodka and tonic. A popular variation in California is the
"Screwdriver," a mixture of vodka and orange juice.
In 1953, when total U.S. consumption of alcoholic beverages rose a scant
six per cent over the previous year, sales of vodka jumped 50 per cent.
Vodka consumption in 1954 is expected to be well over 3 million gallons,
while only a few years ago it was figured in the thousands.
All this vodka-drinking is going on with no help from the Russians. Only
a trickle of real Russian vodka finds its way to the United States, and most
of what the Americans drink comes from Hartford, Conn., plant of the Pieree
Smirnoff Co., this country's largest producer.
Rudolf Kunett, Smirnoff's president, said his company's sales have doubled
each year since 1946. He sees the vodka boom as a triumph of truth over
"For years most Americans would not touch vodka for two reason," he said.
"They thought it was made out of potatoes and therefore inferior, and they
thought one drink of it would put them under the table."
The truth is, he said, good vodka has always been made from grain alcohol
like any other good liquor. And 80 or 100 proof vodka is no more
intoxicating that 80 or 100 proof whiskey.
Not the least attraction of vodka is its taste and smell, both practically
nil. Smirnoff advertises its product with the slogan "it leaves you
"The biggest call for vodka martinis at businessmen's bars always comes at
lunchtime," Kunett said. "Vodka has just a very subtle taste and odor." He
pinched the air with his thumb and forefinger.
The Smirnoff company had been making vodka for 100 years in Russia and was
exclusive supplier to the czar when the Communists confiscated its property
after the 1917 revolution. The Smirnoff family fled to Paris and eventually
got back into the vodka business. Kunett, also a 1917 Russian refugee, came
to the United States in 1933 and started an American branch of the company.
Business was poor until postwar birth of the Moscow Mule, and the later
development of a vodka-and-tomato juice cocktail know variously as the "Red
Snapper," "Blood Mary" or "Tomato Pickup."
So far, he said he has he has heard of little American popularity for the
vodka drink which is most popular these days among the masses in Soviet
Russia. It is know as a "one and a half ton truck," and consists of a 150
gram (five ounce) shot of vodka chased by a glass of beer.