In the latest stunt from a fast food brand desperate for relevance, roast beef sandwich purveyor Arby’s debuted a french-fry-flavored vodka this week. Available in two different flavors inspired by the chain’s different types of french fries, curly and crinkle cut, the vodka is the kind of bizarre mashup that could ultimately end up with a cult following.
The 80 proof spirit is, of course, distilled from potatoes, which is not uncommon in the world of vodka. A number of popular bottles are made from the starchy root vegetable, including Chopin and Monopolowa, both distilled in Poland. The Arby’s vodka is made stateside, at lauded Minneapolis craft distillery Tattersall Distilling, known for offerings like barrel-aged rum, wheated whiskey, and aquavit.
The Arby’s vodka may not sound as fancy as a Scandinavian spirit that’s been distilled since the 15th century and made with all organic ingredients, but Tattersall is making it with that same level of care. The curly fry vodka is infused with cayenne, paprika, onion, and garlic, presumably the same combination of spices that coats the real deal at Arby’s. The crinkle fry vodka, which “honors the rich tradition of salted potato shapes,” is infused with salt and sugar, a common combo in the world of fast food fries.
On the nose — I am a sommelier now, thanks — the Arby’s vodka smells like any other vodka. That powerful rubbing alcohol-like punch that even the finest vodkas smell of is difficult to overcome, even with artificial flavors, but there’s a little something savory about the curly fry vodka that is distinct from the crinkle fry version. Using Clamato, Worcestershire sauce, and a little Lawry’s seasoning salt, I stirred together a lazy-ass bloody mary mix and set out to conduct an extremely scientific taste test to determine whether or not Arby’s vodka actually tasted like french fries.
Roping in a friend for the challenge, I labeled with “curly” and “crinkle” on the bottom, poured up the bloody marys, and switched the cups around on the table a few times so that we wouldn’t know which was which. The first sample was indeterminable, mostly just tasting like bloody mary mix, but sipping from the second cup set my tastebuds alive.
Improbably, there was a distinct difference between the two bloody marys. The cup with the curly fry vodka, we found, has a much more pronounced spice than the crinkle fry vodka, and the little punch of garlic and paprika gave the drink a fuller flavor profile. It was extra, super savory, which is exactly what a bloody mary should be. The curly fry vodka made for the better bloody mary hands down, and the addition of a little pickle juice would’ve really taken things over the top.
This isn’t to say that the crinkle fry vodka is bad, though. It’s decently smooth, and there is a little hint of sweetness on the finish. Arby’s describes its flavor as subtle, and that’s certainly accurate. But we’re talking about a $60 bottle of vodka here, and there’s no real reason to drop that kind of cash on a vodka that doesn’t bring that much in terms of flavor to the table. Maybe you can replicate the salty-sweet vibe by simply adding a little sugar to your bloody mary mix and using ol’ reliable Tito’s?
But the curly fry vodka offers up something special. Flavored vodkas aren’t really novel, but they tend to be cheap, subpar spirits infused with over-the-top flavors like whipped cream and fake watermelon. Savory infused vodkas are much more rare, outside of the occasional chile-infused vodka and novelties like pickle vodka. There should be more savory infusions, especially considering the the ubiquity of vodka in classic, not-sweet cocktails like the bloody mary and the martini.
Whether or not the Arby’s vodka is worth $60 is a personal calculus. If you’re planning a brunch and want to have killer bloody marys, it’s definitely a good ingredient to have in that situation. While this pricey bottle of vodka might be a marketing stunt intended to make people talk about Arby’s, it’s not a bad little addition to a home bar. (But if you’re looking for a vodka that tastes exactly like french fries, though, this ain’t it.)
When the brand announced the launch of this bizarrely satisfying vodka, it was met with equal parts incredulity — why in the world would Arby’s, which has never served alcohol, get into the booze industry? — and enthusiasm. Oh, and jokes, plenty of jokes. That was the goal from the jump — not for Arby’s to get into the vodka game, but for all of us to share our opinions about it on social media. However you feel about the food at Arby’s, or their vodka, becoming a meme is priceless.