This is the story of how one man created an empire: the empire of Smirnoff vodka.

Pyotr Smirnov, the man behind the mask, is responsible for what has come to be known as the world’s #1 vodka. Born as a serf in Russia, Smirnov lived out a true rags-to-riches story by becoming one of Russia’s richest men by the time of his death in 1998 (his fortune was worth more than $130 million at that time).

He began making vodka in 1964, using only the finest ingredients to make his brand of vodka the most prestigious. To market his product, he became one of the first people to advertise in newspaper ads and even made charitable donations to the clergy to keep them from preaching anti-vodka sermons. One of the best parts about Smirnoff’s story, though, is the ingenious way that Smirnov got the vodka into the best bars around Russia.

The story is that in one of Moscow’s poorest neighborhoods, Smirnov invited panhandlers into his home for food and drink before sending them out on a mission. After being wined and dined, their mission was to spread out and go to the bars in the area, demanding Smirnoff vodka. Soon, sales were booming and Smirnoff was a staple around Russia. Smart man.

Smirnoff survived through periods of political unrest and factory strikes in Russia, and later was introduced to Europe in the 1920s and America shortly after that. It is now a best selling brand on both sides of the Atlantic, being sold in over 130 countries.

There is even an entire book dedicated to Smirnov’s incredible story and the history of the brand.

So next time you are thinking of getting the cheaper version of vodka before your weekend rager, stop and think about what you are buying into. Maybe his story will have inspired you to keep Smirnov’s legacy alive and take home some Smirnoff in that brown bag of yours.

More on Russia’s favorite drink, right here: