Absolut Chicago—”the vodka that captures the unique blend of the past with the cutting edge of right now that makes Chicago a modern classic,” at least according to Absolut—has been getting plenty of press since it was released earlier this month. Which is the idea, obviously: the company has released six other vodkas named after specific cities over the past six years, and I’m sure they’re well aware that it’s a surefire way to make locals pay attention. A recent article about the release in Time nails it: “But the idea that a Chicago-themed vodka doesn’t seem to have much to do with Chicago probably doesn’t matter. . . . The point, it seems, isn’t to create a drink that somehow tastes like a city, but to make locals feel thrilled that Absolut has honored them with a concoction specific to their hometown.”
Still, I have to admit that I was a little curious about how the vodka tasted. And when a sample bottle arrived in the mail—well, there was really no reason not to try it. It didn’t hurt that the label art, a stylized cityscape crowdsourced in collaboration with Threadless and designed by Ross Bruggink of Studio MPLS (yep, that’s a Minneapolis company), is pretty great.
Absolut Chicago is rosemary and olive flavored, with “a hint of thyme.” I asked about the reasoning behind the choices Absolut made for the flavor of the vodka, and brand director Afdhel Aziz responded, “We wanted to share a flavor that would be a great compliment [sic] to many of the city’s favorite cocktails, including bloody marys and martinis.”
More entertaining than the official line are the suggestions for what real Chicago-flavored vodka would taste like (and they’re just as ridiculous as the idea that rosemary, olive, and thyme taste like Chicago). NBC’s Mark Anderson had ideas that tended toward the completely revolting: Bubbly Creek, dead alewives, CTA bus fumes, Fulton Market fish juices, and dog poop in a city park, among others. NPR’s Scott Simon, on the other hand, got a little more poetic with his suggestions: “a sprig of Mexican epazote, a stem from a Sicilian olive tree, a sprinkle of Indian cardamom seeds, a spritz of char from a grilled Polish sausage, a shake of celery salt from a kosher Chicago dog, a speckle of Greek anise seeds, and Chinese five-spice powder.”
- Julia Thiel
- I don’t own martini glasses.
But what does it actually taste like? It’s not terrible for a flavored vodka—I liked it more than I was expecting to. I think the last time I had Absolut was when a friend left part of a bottle of Absolut Mandarin at my apartment, and it was pretty bad.
Absolut Chicago, on the other hand, lacks the syrupy sweetness of a lot of flavored vodkas, and the olive and rosemary flavors are pretty natural-tasting (I didn’t pick up on any thyme). I tried it straight, then in a martini, which was a much better way to drink it. There was only a small splash of vermouth in it, but the vodka opened up considerably in the martini and the flavors were easier to identify. While I’m not much of a martini drinker, it was very pleasant: dry with only a hint of sweetness. The olive flavor made it slightly reminiscent of a dirty martini without the brininess, and the rosemary made it taste similar to a gin martini (a good thing, in my opinion).
Another evening, I tried a different drink recipe that Absolut recommends for the vodka: a vodka lemonade. I was skeptical that the olive flavor would play well with lemonade, and I did end up finding it a little odd, though the rosemary worked well in it. It wasn’t bad, but I’d probably stick with a martini or vodka and tonic for this. (Or just skip it altogether and have whiskey instead, which would always be my preference.)