Sure we all know that James Bond prefers a Smirnoff vodka martini, shaken, not stirred. But what is Don Draper’s vodka of choice? During the 11th episode, in a shot that lingered for a few seconds over his office bar cart, Draper seems to enjoy Kamchatka. The bottle was mostly turned away but the label was visible enough.
So what do we make of this? For starters, Draper is an Old Fashioned drinker, so the vodka may be there just for guests. In 1966-67, there wasn’t much in the way of actual imported vodka in the United States. According to Richard W. Lewis, author of Absolut Book, Stolichnaya didn’t arrive in the States until 1968, followed by Finlandia (but wasn’t Stolichnaya the vodka Roger Sterling opens up in the LSD episode?). On the other hand, despite its name, Kamchatka is not from the Soviet Far East, but rather distilled in Kentucky. A good friend tells me it was the drink of his grandparents.
Today Kamchatka is what’s known as a “value brand.” You won’t see it on the shelf but it will be in the well and used for rail drinks. On the BevMo! site, a 1.75 liter plastic jug of Kamchatka costs an extremely reasonable $14.99. Which is why it’s no surprise the bottle sells so well, especially during an economic downturn. In fact, NPR did a story early last year about Kamchatka being the bestselling liquor in the state of Ohio—more than Smirnoff, Bacardi, and Jack Daniels. “Say you just walk into a place and you just order a cranberry and vodka,” a bar owner tells the station. “You’re getting that.” NPR host Steve Inskeep adds, “Okay, so it’s not the taste. Shaw says other vodkas—like Grey Goose—would ruin him. They’re more than $20 a bottle. Kamchatka is about $6.50.”
But who knows? Maybe Kamchatka can undergo a rebranding thanks to Mad Men? After all, look what happened with Pabst Blue Ribbon (not to mention Carhartt as a fashion statement). Kamchatka is actually owned by Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc. Because it’s a value brand, Kamchatka doesn’t appear on the company’s homepage (as opposed to Maker’s Mark, Courvoisier, Laphroaig, and Effen Vodka). But it’s there. According to Beam vice president for PR and communications Paula Erickson, who’s aware of the Mad Men buzz, “James B. Beam Distilling Co. (Beam) acquired the Kamchatka brand through an asset sale purchase from National Distillers and Chemical Corporation dated April 8, 1987. We are not certain of when the brand was actually founded.”
Kamchatka. Its origins are so mysterious. Just like Don Draper.