Further Thoughts on Infused Vodka

I was just reading Explore the Pour, where Robert is on a Bloody Mary kick. While it isn’t the purpose of this post, I’d first like to congratulate him for two consecutive posts on a single cocktail without putting up a recipe in either—surely a cocktail blogging first…. I particularly recommend the first post of the two, Bloody Mary Social Theory, as a fine read. But it is the second post, Is Your Bloody Mary Really the Best, that provoked this little time-waster.

Now, this isn’t going to be about Bloody Marys at all. I don’t drink them, and neither does Maggi. Growing up, everyone I knew who did, did so for strictly curative purposes. The drinkers were in no condition to care much about recipes. No one really boasted much about whose were best. In fact, the only conversations I remember about making them revolved around the timeless debate of Mr. & Mrs. T vs. Tabasco. Even today, I have only one friend who cares much about them at all. Now, he did almost get into a fistfight with a bartender over whether said bartender’s Bloody Marys were the Best On Earth (the bartender’s considered opinion), or just plum nasty (my friend’s equally fervent position). I guess the only probative value to come out of this anecdote is sage, but likely unneeded, advice to the professionals out there in blogland: You can boast of your Bloody Mary all you want, but be prepared to retract (at least publicly and temporarily) that boast… especially if the customer consuming the drink is as big as my friend!

Aaanywhooo…. On with the show. I played a bit of Blogpong with Jay at Oh Gosh! over Cosmopolitans, and the use of infused vodka. Jay advocated citrus infused vodka in making Cosmos, and I think it is a pointless shortcut. In a Cosmo, you are already using real juices, so why not a bit more? Keeping infused vodka around when you also are a real juice-head seems to me to be a waste of shelf-space, and besides, I think real juice both tastes much better, but also allows you more control over the strength. Jay whinged on about my condemning shortcuts, pots and kettles, and the like. Comforted by the irrefutable fact that my unparalleled logic and intellectual prowess had bested Jay’s considerably greater cocktail expertise, I graciously let the matter slide.

Then I read Robert’s (remember Robert?) Bloody Mary posts, and come across this:

As pointed out before and reinforced by Drink Boston this week, I am not a big fan of stressing the differences between vodka in cocktails. It is a spirit that is produced to be odorless and tasteless which, despite differences in quality, generally does not influence cocktails tremendously. However, vodka does not have to stay this way. Infusions, especially in Bloody Marys, provide a unique opportunity to introduce distinct flavors to your cocktails. By utilizing a great infusion with a carefully considered tomato base, some Bloody Marys might start living up to their hype.

The first part of this I have always agreed with: Use the best vodka possible in Martinis or shots, but it is a waste when making anything more complex, from G&Ts on up. Stay away from the Valu-Rite in most usages and you are golden. The second made me rethink my wisdom a bit. I still think that Absolut Citron is an Absolute Waste (har, I made a funny!), but Robert’s description of habanero infused vodka is a horse of a different color. If you want to infuse your vodka, or buy it thus altered, with flavorants like habanero, chocolate, vanilla, or even ginger, this makes sense. These are not easily introduced to a cocktail in native form. And while several such flavors could be introduced via various liqueurs, those of us with only small liquor stores nearby and a natural aversion to the words de Kuyper’s would need another approach! And speaking of infused vodkas versus martini vodkas, will someone please explain the appeal of this to me?

I stand by my position that the effect of fruit infusions, especially lemon, lime, and orange, are better produced from actual pulp or peel. Yes, I like a certain Shortcut due to logistical reasons, but I contend that that doesn’t really apply here. You have a choice between having fresh fruit around, which has numerous applications, including garnish, or you can go through finding an infused vodka that tastes… well… not nasty, then making sure its infusion is the right strength for the specific cocktail in question, then finding shelf space for it. Or you can go for good quality and infuse your own—ditto on the shelf-space thing, and the considerable time that goes into it should be taken into account.

Oh, and if you are buying watermelon infused vodka, for crying out loud, just admit that you’re serving McTinis, and have done with it.

So for me, I’ll stick with my Ultimat and Tanqueray Sterling, both unflavored, unless one of you has a good use for that ginger infused vodka I mentioned. That intrigues me. If you do, please punch the link into the comments, and thanks!

About the author

Doug

I am 48 years old, married with two young daughters. My interests are tennis, reading, computers, politics, and of course cocktails. I run a murder mystery party business that caters to both corporate and private events, Killing Time, murder consultants.

2 Comments

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  • Thanks for the recommendations! Sorry to hear your not a Bloody Mary fan, but I am shocked that you read both of my posts on Bloody Marys since you don’t even like them!

    I love to do creative infusion because they are really only one of a few ways to introduce flavors into cocktails that aren’t always present. You’ve got syrup infusions, but those can offset a drinks sweetness. Sometimes, a good infusion is the way to go.

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