There are many things we do know about Smirnoff, maybe because it’s everywhere (that kind of happens when you’re the best selling vodka brand in the world). But as is probably the case with vodka generally, we don’t know everything there is to know about Smirnoff. Mostly we just know how to drink it.
But Smirnoff’s got a pretty interesting and unexpected history. Think feudal Russia, vodka for the Tsar, revolution, evacuation, and the birth of a family legacy. Before you go to the liquor store and pick up a bottle of Smirnoff Peach, read up on the stuff. You might respect it a little more—and knock it back a little less rapidly.
There is a dude named Smirnoff.
Actually, his name is Pyotr Smirnov. He started out life as a Russian serf (basically at the bottom of a feudal totem pole) and went on to create the best selling vodka in the world. When he died he was worth $130 million and was one of the richest men in Russia.
Smirnov was a marketing genius.
Smyrnov started selling his vodka in 1864, but without any readily available social media outlets, he had to find another way to spread the world about his hooch. His solution: give panhandlers food and drink and in return ask them to fan out around the city of Moscow, demanding Smirnoff vodka. (It worked.)
Smirnov wanted to sell his vodka to the Tsar.
The vodka producer wasn’t just looking to get regular people tipsy. Smirnov wanted to earn the exclusive contract to supply vodka to the Tsar of Russia. And he did, in 1886.
Tolstoy and Chekhov tried to shut Smirnoff down.
Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov would disapprove of that vodka tonic you’re drinking. And in the late 19th Century, they led an anti-alcohol campaign. Fortunately for Smirnoff drinkers, Pyotr’s son Vladimir Smirnov was able to escape the country and bring his vodka recipe with him.
The “Smirnoff” spelling is a direct result of that.
Since he was in charge of a capitalist enterprise—and selling booze, to boot—Vladimir Smirnov had to flee Russia after the Bolshevik revolution, resettling his base of operations in Europe. “Smirnoff” is the French spelling of the Russian vodka.
For a while there, Russia was in charge of Smirnoff.
Before the Smirnovs fled Russia, there was a brief period of state control of the business. (In theory it was to rein in corruption and alcoholism, but it did end up making the country a lot of money…)
Smirnoff is gluten-free.
Well, the plain stuff anyway. The “natural flavorings” in the flavored versions might contain trace amounts of gluten, but plain old Smirnoff vodka is made from corn, making it totally gluten-free.
Smirnoff is charcoal-filtered.
Which is the same thing they do to the bourbon that becomes “Tennessee Whiskey.” Charcoal filtration is thought to mellow a spirit by removing further impurities.
There is a crazy movie title with “Smirnoff” in it.
It’s called “Smirnoff Experience Shanghai: Hard-Fi,” and it was made in 2008. Maybe not unsurprisingly, the IMDB page is totally blank. Maybe because somebody realized that the title made no sense.
There are 39 flavors of Smirnoff.
They’re not all vodka—some are pre-mixed cocktails like “Tuscan Lemonade” and “Savannah Tea.” There are only (only) 31 flavors of actual Smirnoff vodka.
Speaking of, Smirnoff has some crazy flavors.
Sure, we’ve all seen fruit flavored vodka. But what about “Fluffed Marshmallow,” “Cinnamon Churros,” and “Root Beer Float”? We’re terrified, but intrigued.
Those crazy flavors are consumed all over the world.
The Smirnovs might have fallen on some hard times at the turn of the 20th Century, but today, over 150 years after the brand was created, Smirnoff vodka is sold in 130 countries.
Smirnoff Ice was used in frat hazing.
Smirnoff Ice—everyone’s favorite malt liquor soda—was created in 1999. And while it saw sales slump in the 2000s, it saw a mild, and weird, resurgence when frats (and bros generally) started a tradition called “Icing a Bro.”
“Icing a Bro” actually has some pretty specific rules.
Fast forward to around 3:30 in this video and you’ll hear someone recite the solemn rules of icing a bro. Heads up, if you don’t drink the Smirnoff Ice, “you’re pretty much not a bro.”