A Vodka with a Story to Tell
As the most-awarded vodka in the world, Smirnoff has been synonymous with leading the line in quality and innovation for decades. But, how much do you know about the history behind the iconic red label? We explore the remarkable story of Smirnoff and offer up a little serve inspiration for you to try in your venue.
A man on a mission
All the way back in 1864 Russia, Piotr Arseneevich (P.A.) Smirnov knew he was on to something good. Born in rural farming land about 170 miles outside of Moscow, P.A. spotted opportunity in the surrounding corn fields and set out to make the world’s finest vodka.
His entrepreneurial drive and early decision to develop recipes using only the purest ingredients grew his vodkas reputation quickly.
In fact, his vodkas were so good that by 1886, Smirnov became the ‘Purveyor of the Imperial Court’, an elaborate way of saying ‘Official Vodka Supplier to the Tsar’. Which was kind of a big deal.
A son on the run
The success wouldn’t last, however. After P.A.’s third son, Vladimir, took over the business, the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 shook things up and he had to stop running vodka distilleries and start running. Literally.
Escaping imprisonment and a death sentence, Vladimir fled the country with only his treasured vodka recipe and a hastily grown moustache to aid in his disguise. Settling in Constantinople, he made plans to relaunch his father’s celebrated spirit and, after some success, set up vodka production in Poland and France. Arriving in the latter, Smirnov decided to adopt the local spelling of the family name because everything sounds sexier in French.
The whiskey frontier
Following European success and the end of Prohibition in 1933, Smirnoff sold the US distribution rights and it was time for the world’s finest vodka to venture across the Atlantic. At first, US drinkers were playing hard to get; they loved their whiskey and there were no two ways about it. But, in the 1940s something changed. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, the public entertained a newfound openness, matched by an appetite for mixed drinks, and set the stage for vodka to shine.
From Russia, with limes
As with most cocktails, there is debate over the real origin of the Moscow Mule, but it is largely accepted that this icon arrived on the scene around 1943 and was first championed by John G. Martin, an executive at the Heublein drinks company.
Heublein had recently acquired the US rights to Smirnoff and Martin credited the creation as a collaboration with friend and owner of Los Angeles pub, The Cock’ n’ Bull, Jack Morgan. Morgan’s girlfriend conveniently owned a company that produced copper products and, one night, all three conspired to create a refreshing cocktail that would be profitable for all parties. This version was disputed, however, by Morgan’s head bartender, Wes Price, who claimed the recipe was his way of clearing excess ginger beer stock.
Vodka production with a difference
In either case, an instant classic was born and its base spirit of inclusivity was loved by everyone. Crisp, refreshing and a vehicle for bringing the world’s favourite vodka to the masses, the Moscow Mule kicked off the cocktail revolution and continues to be a bar staple today. What makes Smirnoff the perfect choice for creating cocktails is its overall quality and smoothness, which is down to the unique production process.
Only the finest grains are carefully selected to create the neutral grain alcohol before being triple distilled; this process purifies the alcohol and results in a ‘lighter’ spirit. Once the spirit is distilled it may enter the unique charcoal filtration system, where the spirit passes through 10 columns of charcoal for up to 8 hours to remove any remaining impurities. Finally, the spirit is mixed with pure demineralized water to be bottled, leaving outstandingly smooth vodka.
How to use Smirnoff in your bar
This smooth vodka is the perfect partner for your vodka based creations and to get you started, here are a few serves to try in your venue:
50ml Smirnoff Red No.21
2 Dashes Angostura bitters
100ml Ginger beer
1 lime wedge.
Fill a highball glass with cubed ice
Add Smirnoff Red No.21
Add 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Top with ginger beer
Stir to combine and garnish with a lime wedge.
Alcohol content: 14.8g per serve
50ml Smirnoff No.21
25ml Lemon juice
Add all ingredients to a highball glass filled with cubed ice
Stir, garnish and serve.
Alcohol content: 14.8g per serve
- Created in Russia in 1864 by P.A. Smirnov
- Son, Vladimir, escapes Russia with guarded recipe and sets up in France, where he adopts the local spelling of Smirnoff
- 1940’s – Smirnoff makes it way to Post-Prohibition North America
- The iconic Moscow Mule helps kick off the cocktail revolution
- Smirnoff is triple-distilled and uses charcoal filtration
- The unique production process results in an incredibly smooth, premium vodka
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