Smirnoff is a brand of vodka owned and produced by the British company Diageo. The Smirnoff brand began with a vodka distillery founded in Moscow by Pyotr Arsenievich Smirnov (1831–1898). It is distributed in 130 countries[1] and produced in several countries including Argentina, Albania, Brazil, Honduras, India, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Mongolia, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the United States.[1] Smirnoff products include vodka, flavoured vodka, and malt beverages. In 2014, Smirnoff was the best selling vodka across the world.

Pyotr Arsenyevitch Smirnov (9 January 1831 – 29 November 1898) founded his vodka distillery in Moscow under the trade name PA Smirnov in 1864, pioneered charcoal filtration in the 1870s, and by 1886 had captured two-thirds of the market in Moscow by virtue of the first use of newspaper advertising while suppressing clerical calls for temperance by generously contributing to the clergy. Russian royalty reportedly regarded Smirnov as a favorite. When Pyotr died, his third son Vladimir succeeded him. The company flourished and produced more than four million cases of vodka per year.

When the Tsar nationalized the Russian vodka industry in 1904, Vladimir Smirnov was forced to sell his factory and the brand. During the October Revolution of 1917, the Smirnov family fled the country. In 1920, Vladimir Smirnov established a factory in Constantinople (present day Istanbul). Four years later he moved to Lwów (formerly Poland, now Lviv, Ukraine). He renamed the vodka “Smirnoff”. It sold marginally well but not nearly as it had in Russia prior to 1904. Although an additional distillery was founded in Paris in 1925, sales remained far less than that produced in Russia.

In the 1930s, Vladimir met Rudolph Kunett, a Russian who had emigrated in the 1920s to New York, and had succeeded in business. The Kunett family had been a supplier of grains to Smirnov in Moscow before the Revolution. In 1933, Vladimir sold Kunett the rights to Smirnoff vodka production and sales in North America. Kunett then returned to the United States, quit his sales job, and established his first North American distillery in Bethel, Connecticut, after the end of Prohibition in 1933. However, the business in America was not as successful as Kunett had hoped. By 1938 Kunett, could not afford the sales licences, and contacted John Martin, president of Heublein. Heublein was a company that specialized in the import and export of liquors and foreign foods. Using the $14,000 that the Heublein company made from a new product that ended up saving them from bankruptcy, Martin bought the rights to Smirnoff in 1939. His board thought he was mad. Americans were traditionally whiskey drinkers unfamiliar with vodka and so sales were slow. Sales picked up considerably after Heublein advertised it as a “white whiskey” with “no taste, no smell” sealed with whiskey corks.

In 1982, the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company acquired Heublein Inc. for $1.4 billion. RJR Nabisco sold the division to Grand Metropolitan in 1987. In 1985 Heublein Corporate Audit Manager Hanson J Kan had recommended to Heublein that it acquire the Grand Metropolitan IDV Smirnoff licensee and its global locations. Grand Metropolitan merged with Guinness to form Diageo in 1997.


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