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Why Is Minneapolis-based Tattersall Distilling making vodka for Arby’s?

The fast food chain is releasing an “extremely limited” line of fry-flavored vodkas, and it tapped two Minneapolis companies to help.

Arby’s picked Minneapolis-based Tattersall Distilling to develop the liquor and Surdyk’s to distribute it.
Arby’s picked Minneapolis-based Tattersall Distilling to develop the liquor and Surdyk’s to distribute it.
Tattersall Distilling

Gimmicky? Maybe. A joke? Definitely not.

Arby’s really is releasing two variations of fry-flavored vodka, and two Minneapolis liquor companies are helping with the rollout.

On Tuesday, the fast food chain announced plans to release an “extremely limited” line of fry-flavored vodkas. Arby’s picked Minneapolis-based Tattersall Distilling to develop the liquor and Surdyk’s to distribute it.

You’d be forgiven for assuming the announcement was a joke. Racket, the successor of shuttered Twin Cities alt weekly City Pages, said the news initially came across as “a gag intended for April 1.” But Jon Kreidler, co-founder and chief officer of Tattersall, confirms that it is no gag.

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Slated to be available exclusively online starting Nov. 18, the vodka will come in two flavors: curly fry and crinkle fry. And yes, there’s a difference between the two, said Kreidler. Both are potato vodkas, but the crinkle fries are flavored with Kosher salt and sugar, while the curly fries are flavored with cayenne, paprika, onion, and black pepper, he said.

How did Tattersall get involved in the project? Kreidler said Arby’s approached the distillery and “wanted to do something unique to announce their new crinkle fries.”

He reaffirmed that the project is a limited-term engagement. “The bottles are extremely limited and at this point it is unlikely to be an on-going product,” Kreidler said in an email. But Tattersall appears to have some other big projects coming down the line. “We have a couple more [partnerships] in the works that we are extremely excited about and will hopefully become a part of our ongoing portfolio of spirits,” he said. “We’re hoping to have more information out publicly yet this winter and think our local supporters will be very excited about them.”

There’s one other Minnesota connection to the fry-flavored vodkas: Chef Justin Sutherland, TV star and owner of Handsome Hog in St. Paul, helped Tattersall develop the flavoring. Shortly after Arby’s reached out, Tattersall leaders happened to meet with Sutherland for an unrelated matter. When they floated the idea by Sutherland, “he was immediately on board,” said Kreidler.

“We have had a long-standing relationship with chef Sutherland, dating back to our Signature Series Single Malt Whiskey we made in collaboration with him,” Kreidler said. “We knew that Justin was a huge Arby’s fan and that he had worked with the brand in the past and thought it would be even more fun to bring him into the fold with the vodkas.”

Since the announcement on Tuesday, the response from consumers has been varied. On Instagram, one user decried the vodkas as “heinous swill.” Others accused Tattersall of being a “sell-out.” But there were plenty of social media users who seemed excited at the prospect of fry-flavored liquor.

Aaron Keller, TCB columnist and founder of Minneapolis-based branding firm Capsule, said that “the size of brands is important when it comes to partnerships.” Consumers can sense when something seems out of skew.

“You really can’t claim to be ‘craft’ and then attach yourself to a massive fast food chain,” Keller says. “That doesn’t exactly present well to an existing audience. … Consumer culture sees right through that stuff.”

Still, local naysayers aside, Tattersall stands to benefit the most from the venture. “You’re opening yourself up to a whole new audience. So, from that perspective, it may be very positive,” Keller said.