Vodka evolution or revolution?

Vodka is the hottest drink in the Western world. Strings of vodka bars are popping up across Europe and vodka-based specialty martini menus are now commonplace in upscale bars and restaurants.

In Ukraine, a former part of the old Soviet Union where one would think vodka had been marketed as broadly as possible, a new vodka called La Femme has just been launched to appeal to women.

Anyone who thinks the fad may quickly dissipate isn't paying attention. In the U.S., vodkas of all sorts are being embraced with a passion once reserved for activities to keep you warm during a long Russian winter. Vodka-themed cookbooks are hitting the shelves. Guided vodka bar-hopping tours are popping up in major metro areas. A jump in the practice for fun and/or profit of infusing vodkas was the catalyst for a new English-language Web site on the topic from Fris, the Danish distiller. Such things attest to the widening trend.

As further evidence of its durability, I point to the ever-rising flood of vodkas on the American market that seems to have no end in sight.

I'm not speaking of merely new brand names, but of new twists from established labels as well as new bases from which new vodkas are springing.

In just the past few weeks we've seen the entrance of a variety of new vodka flavors from established distillers as well as the debuts of these players in this most crowded niche of the distilled spirits market:

Medoff's, distilled from Oregon barley.

Anglesey, a toffee-flavored vodka from Wales.

Han, a barley-based vodka from China.

Cold River, made in Maine at the state's first distillery, from Maine potatoes.

More and more, older brands such as Stolichnaya, Absolut, Skyy, Barton, Finlandia, Ketel One and others are flooding the market with such floverd vodkas as orange, melon, raspberry, chocolate, lemon and on and on.

If you think you're too discerning to be won over by the heavy print and billboard ads for all these vodkas, not to mention dueling liquor store displays, bear in mind that the sales forces are working longer and harder on thinking how to get their brand names into your skull than you are about keeping them out.

One perfect example, which kicks off this month on the Sundance television channel: "Iconoclasts." It's a weekly series underwritten by the French vodka maker Grey Goose that is aiming to extend its high-end vodka brand by creating entertainment that appeals to the demographic groups that like the Sundance Channel.

Each episode will team up two innovators from different fields, including film and television, architecture and design, fashion, food, music and sports. They'll each explore the other's world, acting as a guide for the viewer.

Sundance Channel does not air commercials, so there will be no spots for Grey Goose vodka, but the company will support promotional events, demographic tartgeting research and advertising.

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