Taking Vodka Down Another Notch

Serious Eats points us to two recent articles that skewer the ever-swelling high-end vodka market. First, Bob Garfield, in an Advertising Age column titled “Obnoxious Ads for Overpriced Vodka,” seethes over the new Bacardi Grey Goose ad campaign, which associates the brand with “such sophisticated activities as sailing, jazz evenings and the U.S. Open finals.”

It’s the hoariest gambit in the world: to flatter customers into imagining they are not conspicuous consumers but discriminating ones. That when they belly up to the bar calling for Grey Goose, they can tell the difference between it and Stoli and Absolut and the rail vodka, because they have rarefied tastes that the mere hoi polloi could never understand. That they are, sniff, a cut above.

The problem with that approach is that most people can’t discern a flavor difference between high-end vodka and, say, Smirnoff. That may be because there is no difference, according to the second article Serious Eats points to. In the Wall Street Journal story “Make Mine a 020001,” Eric Felten describes how just three major companies—MGP Ingredients, Archer-Daniels-Midland, and Grain Processing Corporation—supply the high-proof ethyl alcohol that’s the base for the vodka made by almost all U.S. manufacturers, expensive and cheap alike.

ADM sells its 190-proof beverage alcohol (product code 020001) packaged one of three ways: ‘Bulk Truck, Bulk Rail, Tank.’ Cut it with water—preferably from a source that will lend itself to a pretty picture on the label—bottle it, and you’re in the vodka business.

Clearly, vodka has jumped the shark. Shark … hmm, come to think of it, that’s a pretty good name for a vodka. Anybody have a pretty water source?

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