Vodka Nation

How the spirit became a billion-dollar business.

Michael Roper, owner of Chicago’s Hopleaf bar and restaurant, recalls what bartending was like in the early seventies. While Smirnoff was considered top shelf, he remembers lesser varieties such as Nikolai, Arrow, Wolfschmidt, and another brand that was then ubiquitous called Mohawk. “Mohawk was cheap, cheap, cheap,” Roper remembers. “Mohawk had a factory just outside Detroit along the expressway and .  .  . all their products were made there. It’s almost like they turned a switch—whiskey, vodka, gin. And it was all junk.” Still, by 1976, vodka had surpassed bourbon and whiskey as the most popular spirit in America. Roper attributes vodka’s rise partially to women, who started drinking more spirits and ordering them on their own: “Women were not going to like Scotch—that was for cigar-smoking burly men,” he speculates. “And .  .  . it was unladylike to drink Kentucky whiskey. But it was considered somewhat ladylike to have a fancy cocktail with an olive in it.” He also remembers when a salesman first brought Miller Lite into his bar, explaining “it’s for women.” In a similar vein, Roper considers vodka a low-calorie option with “a less challenging flavor.”

Balanced Diets

On the history and study of pica:

Indeed, we have long defined ourselves and others by what we do and do not eat, from kashrut dietary restrictions described in Leviticus to the naming of Comanche bands (Kotsoteka—buffalo eaters, Penateka—honey eaters, Tekapwai—no meat) to insults—French frogs, English limeys, German krauts. But poya seemed to beg a different question: what was one to make of people who ate food that wasn’t food at all?

A Patriot's Guide to the Hot Dog Eating Contest

A primer on competitive eating’s premier event, the Hot Dog Eating Contest, which airs today at noon EST:

1: During the allotted period of time, contestants eat as many hot dogs and buns (called "HDBs") as they can. 2: They're allowed to use a beverage of their choice to wash things down. 3: They must stay in full view of their own, personal "Bunnette" scorekeeper. 4: Condiments may be used, but are not required. 5: HDBs that are still in the mouth at the end of the contest only count if they are eventually swallowed. 6: Puking up the hot dogs before the end of the contest (called "a reversal") will result in a disqualification, unless you do something horrific to make up for it (more on this later.)