1. What the name vodka means
The spirit’s name comes from the Slavic word “voda”, which means “water.” Add on the suffix “ka”, and suddenly it’s “little water.” However, once you leave English, things get a bit more interesting. The word for “vodka” in several languages, including Polish, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, involves some variation on their words for “burning” or “to burn”
2. All vodkas have the same two ingredients
Those being alcohol and water. Most people pay more attention to the alcohol part here—after all, that’s what you’re paying for. But some experts contend that the water portion—which takes up 60 percent or so of the bottle—is just as important. “Think about the bagels and pizza in New York,” says Brent Lamberti, a former bartender and ambassador for Stoli’s Elit brand of vodka. “They’re considered the best in the world because of the water used to create them. That’s really the only thing that differentiates them from any other place in the world.”
One other side note: If you’re ever tempted to purchase a “low-calorie” vodka, all that means is that the manufacturer put a bit more water than usual in the bottle. Alcohol has a fairly fixed amount of calories, so the only way to really lower a vodka’s calorie count is to dilute it.
3. Vodka can come from just about any plant or fruit
As long as it’s got plenty of starch or sugar, and will ferment, you can turn it into vodka. While grain vodkas are the most popular, you can make it out of grapes, potatoes, apples, rice, beats, or just about anything else found in the produce section.
4. Vodka raised the Iron Curtain just a little bit
In 1972, Pepsi struck a deal with the Soviet government that allowed it to sell its sodas in the USSR. This was no small deal: It was actually the first American consumer product to be produced, marketed, and sold in the Soviet Union. The barter that allowed the deal to go down: In exchange for shipping its soft drink concentrate to the USSR, Pepsi was granted the rights to sell Stolichnaya vodka in the USA. (This effectively makes the presence of such vodka in Mad Men—particularly in the hands and office of Roger Sterling—an anachronism).
One fascinating part of the pact: PepsiCo committed to purchasing “at least 10 Soviet-built freighters and tankers of 25,000 to 65,000 tons, which will then be leased on the world market through a Norwegian partner,” according to a 1990 story in the Los Angeles Times.
At a 1990 news conference celebrating a renewal of the deal, PepsiCo Executive Committee Chairman Donald Kendall commented: “We think we will have the same success in marketing Soviet ships as we have in marketing Soviet vodka.”