Vodka reached the United States in the 1930s when Vladimir Smirnoff ("It leaves you Breathless") fled Russia after the October Revolution left his business broke. After reviving his business and building the name into the world's largest vodka brand, American GIs brought their taste home (no doubt after partying with their Russian allies) and so began the ever increasing presence of vodka in our social and drinking culture. Thanks to ingenious marketing and flavoring of vodkas (Absolut and Stolichnaya, respectively) vodka has just recently surpassed scotch as the world's number one spirit.

Several nations have a singular beverage that have been identified with and that has come to be identified with them. The Irish have whisky, the Scotch have scotch, the Brits and Germans have beer, Mexico has tequila, Japan has sake, the French have wine and the Russians, Poles, Finns and Ukrainians have vodka.

A fond Slavic diminutive that means "little water", vodka is "voda" in Russia and "woda" in Poland. Each country lays claim to have been the birthplace of vodka but there are no easy answers. It dates back hundreds of years but the Russo-Polish border has moved several times since then. Both countries boast a heavy association and great popularity to the drink. Russia's first documented production was near the end of the 9th century but the first distillery was 200 years later. Poland says it distilled vodka earlier in the 8th century but this was a distillation from wine so it might be easier to say it was a crude brandy. The first Polish vodka was developed in the 11th century when they were originally used as medicines (anesthetic and disinfectant). In the middle of the 14th century, intoxicating characteristics were discovered and voila! Vodka was born.

Beginning as a rye-based liquor, vodka became more popular and eventually the potato became the fermentation source of choice due to its efficacy in distilling compared to other grains (most brands are distilled from rye, wheat, barley and most commonly, corn). U.S. regulations say vodka is "without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color." So one could say that it is defined not by what it is--but what it isn't.

Back in the day, vodka was harsh stuff and it was often masked by eastern European herbs and spices. But as the distilling process improved, the trend was towards neutrality. Now many vodka brands are saturating the market with dozens of flavors since the vodka cocktail/martini is the perfect vehicle for clean, pure added flavors.

Are they the real thing? You are the jury of one. It is your vodka. Into the mouth. Down the throat. Warming your stomach. While many believe vodka on the rocks is a sin against nature, warm vodka is a sign that all is not well with the world. The colder the vodka, the better.

Welcome to Sub Zero Vodka Bar.