Program Title: Vodka Goes Global
Speaker: Patricia Herlihy
Date: December 2, 2013
Location: Astor Center

Patricia Herlihy, Professor Emerita of History and currently Adjunct Professor at the Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, guided us through the past and future of this “powerful, pleasurable, and at some times poisonous” beverage, from its origins in Eastern Europe, distilled by monks primarily as a medicine, to today’s boutique brands. Vodka has been a staple drink in Slavic lands for at least 600 years, and Russians and Soviets from the tsars to Stalin have both encouraged its production—as a source of revenue for the state—and discouraged its consumption—as the cause of rampant alcoholism.

However, in the US, Dr. Herlihy tells us, vodka was not widespread until the release in 1962 of Dr. No, in which James Bond famously orders a “shaken, not stirred” Smirnoff martini, and Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to the Soviet Union, which resulted in a deal between Pepsi-Cola and Stolichnaya. By 1975, vodka had surpassed bourbon as the most popular American spirit. Today, vodka distillers are branding and marketing their products, and consumers are becoming ever more discriminating. Dr. Herlihy showed slides of vodka bottles in the shapes of skulls, trumpets, Kalashnikovs, and more.