The first time I became aware of cilantro, I was 10 years old, asking my aunt why the Thanksgiving dinner tasted like Alka-Seltzer. I thought maybe she’d put soap in my meal, for laughs or maybe to kill me. Now, as an adult, I’m aware that disliking cilantro is some kind of genetic thing, and I’ll eat cilantro if it’s already in something in front of me.
Still, I’d never willingly make cilantro the star ingredient.
Imagine my bewilderment, then, as I browsed through an alcohol delivery app to discover that Absolut Cilantro not only exists, but has for some time. “Fresh, smooth and naturally sweet,” the description reads, “the distinctively aromatic cilantro combines with playful notes of ripe, juicy limes and finishes with a subtle hint of herbaceous spice. Absolut only makes flavored vodka from all natural flavors. No added sugar.”
As with any horror-inducing vodka-related discovery, I simply had to try it. But before I did, I turned to bartender and MEL contributor Haley Hamilton for advice. “I’m one of those people that loves cilantro — if there’s a drink with it on a menu, I’m ordering it,” she says. “I haven’t had the Absolut one, but I’d bet it makes a decent gimlet (lime juice and simple syrup) and a solid Bloody Mary. Anything that plays up the botanical or spice notes.”
With her advice in mind, I decided I’d play it like gin and turn her gimlet suggestion into a Tom Collins by adding some seltzer.
Yet, I couldn’t actually find Absolut Cilantro at my local grocer or liquor store, and when I attempted to order it through the app where I originally found it, I received a call from the store informing me that they were out of stock. Just as soon as I was confronted with cilantro-flavored vodka’s ghastly existence, it became unattainable. Absolut Cilantro seemed to slip through my fingers, becoming my taunting ghost.
So I, y’know, made some cilantro vodka myself. Sort of.
Ideally, I would have mixed some cilantro with some vodka and let it sit for a week or more. I didn’t have that kind of patience, though, so instead, I bought some Tito’s, a fat bunch of cilantro, and I muddled. I muddled like this goddamn piece depended on it. Perhaps I even muddled too hard. The result was indeed botanical, even a hint fancy. Though I went light on the simple syrup, the cilantro enhanced the sweetness and the combination of vodka, lime juice, seltzer, simple syrup and a fist full (I have freakishly small hands) of cilantro made sense, at very least. I’m not the target consumer for cilantro anything, but having this on a cocktail menu somewhere probably wouldn’t make anyone think twice.
What doesn’t make sense, though, is why Absolut ever decided to bottle up cilantro vodka as its own thing — starting back in 2013, apparently, despite my only just having discovered it — in the first place. The usual flavored vodkas — Pinnacle Whipped, Smirnoff Raspberry — are used, if not explicitly designed, as Baby’s First Liquor. The flavors are intended to make the alcohol go down easier, masking it in fruity fun flavors. But cilantro is neither fruity nor fun.
“Flavored vodka is good for mixing and creating cocktails, obviously,” says Kaitlyn, a bartender in Connecticut. “They’re even good to incorporate into classic cocktails just to slightly tweak the flavor. It’s really subjective. I know that at my job, we have a lot of really strangely flavored vodkas. One I really like is by Ketel One, and it’s peach and orange blossom. I can definitely see cilantro working in a bloody. We also have an amazing chili vodka that I love to put in everything.”
Some might look down on flavored vodkas, but they are ultimately a solid way of incorporating new flavors into a drink without needing the ingredient itself. Adding orange blossoms or whipped cream might not actually make sense or even be logistically attainable, but adding a vodka with those flavors is easy.
Considering how I was able to find actual cilantro but not cilantro-flavored vodka, though, that logic doesn’t apply here. Instead, I suppose that Absolut Cilantro has adequately done its job of simply getting me to think about both cilantro and Absolut. Even though I wasn’t able to actually get ahold of the product, it inspired me to get creative with my booze in a way I hadn’t before, and while I still cannot imagine who is asking for cilantro-flavored vodka, I gotta commend Absolut for offering another avenue for experimentation.