Vodka for grownups

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Most of my early drinking took the form of vodka, preferably raspberry flavored or in Cosmo form, but ever since I fell in love with gin, neutral spirits have fallen far by the wayside. When I taste vodka, my tongue expects the bite of juniper, the perfume of citrus and spice. The straightforward alcoholic hit doesn’t do much for me anymore. Luckily, that blank taste comes with an excellent solvent for flavor of fruits and vegetables. Unluckily, when fruit meets vodka, the results often tend more toward sugary punch than dry martini, hardly an acceptable solution for a gin devotee.
When I’ve infused vodka in the past, I’ve stuck to pineapple, but lately I’ve been playing with more complicated infusions that don’t taste like Hawaiian Punch. My recent endeavor combined sweet strawberries with orange zest and basil for fragrance and depth.
The tricky part with these mixed ingredient formulas is the flavor ratio and deciding how long to infuse. Soft fruits and herbs obviously need less time, woodier fruits or vegetables, chilies, and dry spices take longer. I’ve given pineapple as long as three weeks and mint as little as a few days. It’s important to taste regularly to see how things are coming along. If you use ripe fruit and rich, fragrant aromatics, you shouldn’t need to add sugar. The final product should still be dry and refreshing, not syrupy.
I used eight ounces of sliced strawberries, the zest of one orange peeled off in strips, and two leafy sprigs of basil submerged in about three cups of vodka. Within a few hours, the vodka began to leach the color out of the strawberries, turning a deep pink. When I took off the lid for a taste after five days, the smell of the basil hit first, and I worried the final product might be grassy.
After eight days, it seemed the strawberries seemed spent, so I strained and tasted again. I mixed the infusion with my old friends tonic water and wedges of lime and was entirely pleased. Tejal and Glyn stopped by before we all went to Aziza (which I swear I will eventually write about), and we all had a strawberry-orange-basil V&T, to general praise. The strawberry flavor was predominant, but the orange and basil gave a summery freshness. Next up is cherry and star anise, per Glyn’s suggestion that the anise flavor might be the ideal way to add depth to that particular fruit. I can’t wait to try it with a splash of ginger ale.

Posted in Food, Tipples
11 comments on “Vodka for grownups
  1. tejal says:

    I really enjoyed that pre-Aziza drink–it looked very innocent, blushing pink, but it tasted rather naughty.
    But seriously, you have to write about that restaurant before, say, your cherry/star anise vodka is ready to drink?

  2. Whitney says:

    Ooo, that sounds fantastic. I also now find vodka too dull to drink, but your infusions sound nummy.
    Please do write about Aziza! It would be a delight to read your thoughts on somewhere I’ve actually been.

  3. Hedonia says:

    Vodka infusions: Cucumber and lychee, part 1

    DPaul and I have been doing vodka infusions for several years now. Over the years, we’ve experimented with a wide variety of ingredients and methods, with varying degrees of success. But of all the infusions we’ve done, the consistent winner

  4. Whitney says:

    Hmm, I keep coming back to this post because I am considering this. I wonder if one could infuse shouchu/soju just as well? I have a wild idea for a cucumber-ginger sort of thing.
    What sort of container did you keep your infusion in? And did you store it in the fridge?

  5. Martha says:

    But of course one can infuse soju! One of our favorite bars is a Korean tapas-type place called Rohan, and they do tons of soju infusions (ginger, cucumber, melon, ginseng, mango, pineapple, you name it). A local sushi place does infused sake cocktails as well.
    A big glass jar is the best thing to infuse in, but the bottle itself will work if you cut everything into very small pieces. I used a glass carafe covered in three layers of plastic wrap secured with rubber bands.
    I just keep it in a dark place (i.e. the linen closet), but I know some people do store the finished infusion in the fridge to keep the flavors fresh.
    For thoughts on infusing cucumbers, go read what Sean has to say:
    http://hedonia.seantimberlake.com/hedonia/2006/06/vodka_infusions.html

  6. Sean says:

    Mm, Dosa does soju infusions too — I had a lychee-infused soju there (which partially inspired me to do the same with vodka) and it was quite nummy.
    Fact is, you can infuse anything. Sangria is basically a quick infusion of fruit to wine.

  7. Sharon says:

    For a different gin taste, try Hendrickson’s. It has a decent juniper note but also a distinct cucumber flavor. You can add to the cucumber note by slicing one into the drink (a different martini but still somehow pure). Cheers!

  8. Martha says:

    Oh, indeed, Hendrick’s is my very most favorite gin! It smells so good (cucumber, coriander, rose petals) I could darn near splash it on after a bath. And it’s soooo smooth.
    Darn it, now I’m craving, and it’s certainly too early in the day for a martini.

  9. Jimmy says:

    I found you through sam over at http://becksposhnosh.blogspot.com/
    I see you post on cocktails occasionally. You should join the MixologyMondays.

  10. Martha says:

    Thanks Jimmy, I just might do that!

  11. Ranjan says:

    Nice! a blog entry completely devoted to my facourite empty calorie!
    Gin has been my staple spirit for many years now… and i’m quite ashamed to say that I never new that it was made of white grain alcohol with infusions. Its quite interesting though. My ignorant mind always thought that gin was made of fermenting juniper berries. Anyway, this explains how Hawkeye and BJ could distill gin in their M*A*S*H swamp. :)
    I read your writeup and bought cucumbers and lychees in hopes of infusing some vodka… but ended up eating the lychees and having sliced cucumbers with salt in stead. Maybe sophisticated spirits are for the patient. hehe.
    I’ll try again, though. Someday.

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