he Distilled Spirits Council of the United States recently
called vodka “the backbone of the spirits industry,” noting
it accounts for 32% of total volume. By any measure, this
marks a startling success story; as a newcomer to the U.S. in
the 1950s, vodka comprised a mere 1% of spirits consumed in the
U.S. Capitalizing at first on its provocative Russian roots and clean
taste, carried into the 1990s by luxury aspirations, then reinvigo-
rated as a craft-cocktail canvas and reinvented with bursts of flavor
for the new millennium, vodka has grown too big to fail. Over the
course of 2012, 65.2 million 9-liter cases of vodka were sold.
To accomplish those kinds of sales, you need a lot of different
people enjoying vodka—a lot of the time. According to Jim Short,
director of marketing and merchandising for the Pennsylvania Li-
quor Control Board, the appeal of basic unflavored vodka spans
all seasons and a great diversity of drinkers, an audience that Penn-
sylvania serves by casting a wide net with close to 200 unflavored
vodka SKUs (including multiple sizes). “I just reviewed an analysis
of basket sales where we look at the types of spirits in a basket with
whiskey—what else that individual purchases. And the other spirit
they bought most was vodka. It could be restocking, having a party
Flashy flavors aside, the original neutral spirit remains strong,
with distinct appeals for different customers
by Jeffery Lindenmuth
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