This was my beach book on my recent vacation to the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii.

Let me tell you, ladies, if you are a woman reading a book called Vodka on the beach and at the resort, it’s going to get you some attention. I guess people expect me to be reading 50 Shades of Gone with an Angels and Demons Tattoo on vacation. Don’t get that book, though. I’d hazard to guess you’ve read something like it before.  Victorino Matus’ Vodka is a much better time.

To start with, it is actually about vodka. It’s not some hip and edgy title for a thriller. This was always the first thing people would ask me about; they would politely interrupt my reading to ask on occasion. This is (as the author has stated on the podcast he co-hosts) the book on vodka. At least, on vodka in America.

Vodka does cover the history of…vodka, specifically its evolution in Russia and Europe at large, but the book is largely about the rise of vodka in the States. This is a history, but it does not move linearly. Every chapter is focused on a certain subject like a brand or a particular aspect of vodka’s rise, such as flavored vodka (personal tip: bacon vodka sounds great but isn’t).

Matus speaks to some really interesting people in the booze business, from craft distillers to big name distributors to scions of multi-generational liquor empires. This book is a lot of fun, but it’s also a very interesting look at marketing that anyone interested in the subject should take a real look at. There’s not much to vodka, honestly, and even the author and some of his interviewees admit that the difference in vodka brands can be subjective. The book details Absolut’s meteoric ascent and it looks pretty clear that it was largely due to a very good ad campaign.

In a roundabout way—or maybe not so roundabout, now I think about it—vodka contains a lot of loveletters to the American dream. The rise of vodka is a story about the success of immigrants and oddballs (and people who stayed in their home countries, or came and went back) who took educated, clever risks. It’s clear that it hasn’t and won’t always worked out, as the chapter covering a vodka brand showcase in Vegas makes it known, but some might. It was interesting to see some of the vodka brands mentioned in the book on display all around me, and occasionally in my glass, as well. It added an extra intellectual dimension to my Maui Mule.

There’s a kind of happy optimism to it, something I see so rarely in these times. The writing was pretty funny and witty. The author definitely was well aware of what his subject was and didn’t treat it like some great anthropological journey. It was a really great beach book. If you’re looking for something interesting and fun, I really recommend Vodka (easily found at Amazon, of course!). It’s earned a place on display with my vodka from my trip to Moscow, as pictured above.


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