Now, Swedish Fish-flavored vodka is not technically a cocktail, which by definition contains more than one component. So, if we wanted to cling to semantics, we could probably wriggle off the hook. Then again, it was only a few weeks ago that we featured the Hog Bomb at HotShots, so perhaps it's time to redact that statement altogether. When caught in an apparent contradiction, we find the best tact is to smile beatifically and quote
Oscar Wilde Walt Whitman: "I am large, I contain multitudes."
The better part of this multitude is contrarian as hell, so now that vodka, and in particular flavored vodka, is officially passé, we are inclined to like and defend it. The softest part in our mushy little heart is reserved for underdogs; we are always making friends with the least popular kid in class, always drawn to outcasts, oddballs and three-legged cats.
The drinking cognoscenti won't return vodka's calls anymore. They'll tell you it's because vodka lacks complexity, it is a neutral spirit that adds nothing but alcohol to a drink. The truth of the matter is that it's out now because of its incredible success. It was so pervasive at a certain time that it's inseparable from that era.
The women who won't touch a bottle of Absolut with a ten-foot pole? We bet many of them have dim memories of sloshing Cosmos and appletinis all over the place while sporting "the Rachel" and singing along, "Hit me, baby, one more time." Then there are the guys who did try to hit it, because their vodka and Red Bull had given them wiings and balls. Of all of them, the ones who most want to forget are those who were behind the bar and charged with cleaning up the whole sticky mess.
Like the former high school athlete with a paunch and a receding hairline who won't stop talking about his teenage triumphs, vodka can't seem to get past its glory days. Even the Rat Pack-styled revelers in Grey Goose ads look tired. While flavored vodka producers flail about, coming up with increasingly desperate and short-lived attempts (root beer, bubble gum, birthday cake, etc.), it's clear that the trend has jumped the shark.
Don't tell the Eric Scholle, bar manager at Farmhaus (3257 Ivanhoe Avenue; 314-647-3800) staff, who make Swedish Fish vodka by melting the candy into
Smirnoff Sobieski vodka from Poland. Typically infusions, in which a spirit sits on its flavoring agent (e.g. fruit, herbs, spices) for some period of time, and then is separated from the solids, result in a scented spirit of essentially the same proof as it started with. In this case, the candy remains, giving the drink some sweetness and viscosity, as well as a bright pink color -- it is somewhere between flavored vodka and liqueur.
It wouldn't have occurred to us to order Swedish Fish vodka or any drink that incorporates it, because, frankly, we are much too sophisticated for any such thing. At the end of our meal, Mr. Scholle, smiling playfully, sat down a cordial glass of the stuff for us to taste, and, appreciating the kind gesture, we sipped it politely. Original red Swedish Fish have such a specific flavor, and this was exactly it -- the first whiff unlocked this little corner of our brain where Swedish Fish-adjacent memories had been hiding out from our conscious mind.
The experience was so strange and unexpected that it made us laugh.
It's of a piece with Farmhaus, where the young wait staff, wearing blue jeans and plaid shirts rather than the standard head-to-toe black, were attentive, friendly and easygoing. Alongside the extensive craft-beer selection were cans of ice cold Busch and Miller High Life going for $2 a pop. This message appeared at the bottom of the menu:
Today's menu is brought to you by: The letter C, the number 7, Kevin Willmann, chef/owner, Regina Murphey, sous chef, Katie Fitzgerald, pastry chef (in spirit). Thank you so much for sharing your evening with us!
It read as both goofy and genuine.
What haters say about vodka is true -- on its own, it is invisible. It's really just a carrier, carrying other flavors as clear as a bell, carrying booze to your bloodstream. What came through in the vodka we sampled at Farmhaus infused the whole operation -- a simple, unaffected joy.
Correction: As originally posted, this article misspelled the names of Eric Scholle and Kevin Willmann. Also, the brand of vodka used was misidentified as Smirnoff. Our apologies.
Correction no. 2, or Once Again We Contradict Ourselves: Oscar Wilde never did claim to contain multitudes -- that was Walt Whitman.