Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Infusing Vodka

JB and I hosted a New Year's Eve party.  We've hosted a formal NYE dinner party at our house 2 out of the last 3 years, and had a great time doing it.  This year though, we decided on a cocktail party, to cut down on all the prep work that accompanied a formal dinner.  Of course, we spent the entire day Friday prepping for the heavy hors d'oeuvres, so go figure.

After some brainstorming of unique things to do for the party, we thought it'd be fun try our hands at vodka infusions.  I was recently at a local bar, Usual Suspects, in Broad Ripple, and they had a really good maraschino cherry and vanilla bean infused vodka available for regulars and friends of the staff.  I tried it, and it was fantastic.  JB and I planned to try our own version for our New Year's Eve party. 

I checked out various recipes that were on the web, and found a lot of different methods specifically related to maraschino cherries.  Some recipes called for adding syrup, others did not.  Some called for rinsing the cherries, while other recipes called for particular types of maraschino cherries.  I'm certainly one for detail, but finding a particular type of maraschino cherry seems like an outer boundary of effort that I'd just assume leave to those more committed to the craft than myself. 

All told, I came up with a rather simple way to infuse vodka with maraschino cherries and a vanilla bean.  Yes, one vanilla bean is enough.

Here is what we did:

1.  Go to Target, buy one of their Chinese-made glass beverage jars with a spout.  They are approximately $25.  You can buy the rough, but more expensive equivalent at Crate and Barrel for $43.  They feature different spout attachments, but are essentially the same thing.  Word to the wise: after the purchase, once you've cut through the plastic holding the lid to the main body, make sure that none of the glass has been chipped away.  If so, return it for another one.  The last thing you want is to either cut yourself on glass, or have a friend enjoy their shot of infused vodka with bits of glass.

2.  Buy vodka.  Don't spend a crazy amount on the vodka, but don't buy crappy vodka either.  I chose Svedka, which is an inexpensive, but quality product.  I bought two handles at Costco.  I think it's about $20 per bottle.  It's a good deal for good vodka. 

3.  Buy maraschino cherries.  I also bought these at Costco.  They were $7 for a two pack of 36oz bottles (72oz in total).

4.  Buy vanilla beans.  Also bought at Costco.  I believe we purchased 10 beans for around $12.  Not a bad price.  They came in two tubes, with 5 beans in each.

With all of the above, you are mere moments away from infusing the vodka with maraschino and vanilla goodness.

First things first - we need to drain and rinse the cherries.  I know some recipes call for using syrup, and others just dump them in for immediate infusion.  I feel like both methods will produce too sweet a flavor for what I'm going for with this infusion.  I want a great cherry flavor, but I don't want a syrupy consistency.

I pulled out a handy strainer, and dumped three bottles of the cherries into the bowl.  I then rinsed the cherries off with water from my reverse osmosis tap.  I've read some other places that used club soda to wash off the cherries.  That's fine if you want to go that route, I'm sure, but distilled water is probably as good. 

Once rinsed off thoroughly, do some shaking of the cherries to insure that the excess liquid goes in your sink and not into the infusion.  After some shaking, place the cherries in the container.  About halfway through, pause, and throw in the vanilla bean (be sure to slice it in half before doing so).

Add the rest of the cherries.  Add vodka.  I used about 1.5 handles of vodka in total - so about 2.25L.

The infusion sat for a couple of weeks before the party.  I tasted it along the way, and there is a dramatic difference between tasting the infusion after 4-5 days, and then after 2 weeks.  The cherry flavor is outstanding.  It's not too strong, and in no way is it syrupy.  It's a nice balance.  The vanilla flavor too shines through in a subtle, but flavorful way.  If you threw in 2 vanilla beans, it'd be a strong vanilla flavor - probably too strong for my liking - but - if you want a vanilla flavored vodka, add one more and it will be a robust vanilla flavor.

You don't have to place it by a scenic picture from Yellowstone National Park if you don't want to, but it makes for a nice backdrop.

In addition to the maraschino cherry infusion, we made an infusion with pineapple.  It was extremely easy.  We cut up pineapple, threw it in the container, and added vodka.  After 2 weeks, it was great.  One thing that we did not do, but would do in the future, is cut out the woody center of the pineapple - the core.  Leaving the core intact wasn't a big issue by any means, the infusion still tastes great.  We used approximately 2.25L in this infusion as well.

Any questions - holler at me in the comments.

Monday, January 3, 2011

What We're Drinking This Month

Welcome back sports fans!  And a big Happy New Year to you, one and all!

After a multi-month hiatus, and a healthy dose of vacation from blogging, I have a nice few posts in the bag for this month.

Loyal readers (hi Mom!) will recognize a few changes here or there.  We're going to do fewer drinks per week, but, hopefully improve the quality of the overall site. 

Coming up this month, we're going to look into infusing vodkas.  JB and I infused a couple vodkas over the last few weeks, and I'm exciting to share our findings with you.  We're also going to look into some of the other scotch regions that we've thus-far paid short shrift (a shame too, no Scotch region should be ignored).  We're also going to look at a classic cocktail or two, going back to this blog's roots, with classic cocktails taking center stage.

Finally, JB and I visited Argentina a little while ago, and I'll try and post something about the trip, what we saw, and how we would plan the trip differently, if at all.  Here's a sample of the things we saw:

Looking forward to 2011!  Have an excellent day!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I just returned from some much needed vacation on Sunday. 

JB and I traveled to Argentina.  We had an amazing time, and saw its bustling main city, Buenos Aires, as well as some of its more remote regions in the south.  The food, the wine, they were stellar, and relatively cheap. 

We drank wine primarily from the Mendoza region, in northwest Argentina.  Malbec is the main grape, but you'll find plenty of other varietals to try as well.  I also drank a lot of Quilmes, a beer widely available throughout the country, and brewed in Buenos Aires.

I'll be posting some pictures from the trip, and hope to post about some cocktails later this week.  Be in touch soon, I hope.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Checking In

Yes, I'm alive.  Yes, I still love making drinks.  No, I have not retired from cocktail blogging.  All good questions my friends, all good questions. 

Here is a small update:

I've taken the last couple of weeks to fulfill some unrelated-to-drinks-business I've been meaning to get around to and finish up.  At the same time, I've been mulling over ways in which The Amateur Mixologist experience can be improved.  We've got 70+ cocktails in bin, and are off to a fantastic start.  Yes, that's right, I said start.  I think we're scratching the surface of possibilities here.

Take for example, a couple Friday's back when my friends and I had a vodka tasting.  We all purchased $35-40+ bottles of vodka and proceeded to drink approximately 6 or 7 different vodkas.  We didn't do a blind tasting and, it wasn't scientific, I assure you.  It didn't really matter to us what the price was on the bottle, but then again, everything we were drinking was in the same ballpark - the "premium" or "ultra/siper-premium" class. 

The winner?  Well, there were two winners really: Belvedere and Żubrówka.  Belvedere was clean, refreshing, and lacked the pungent alcohol flavor that some of the other vodkas brought into the mix.  Żubrówka was incredibly unique, and tasted like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.  It's worth noting too, that the Żubrówka we consumed was the true Polish version of the vodka that is illegal in the States (JB and I had no idea of its illegal nature in advance of bringing it back).  You can find bison grass vodka here that is without the illegal components, though I'm not sure if it tastes different than the Polish version.

In any event, the vodka tasting is a solid concept that we have not yet explored here at The Amateur Mixologist.  We've considered video, as well as a less frequent posting schedule, but with more depth (think New Yorker v. The Week).  All told this has been a fun experiment., and one that we plan to continue.   Readership has steadily increased in the last months, and we're closing to averaging 1,000 page views a month.  Thank you again for all of your support - your e-mails, your comments are all very much appreciated.

After this past weekend, whereby I celebrated a fraternity brother's bachelor party at Keeneland in Lexington, I will need some time to recover.  It's been a rough stretch of late, and some time away from a cocktail is well needed, and well deserved.  Know though, that we'll be back, hopefully soon, with a cocktail or alcohol related post that is sure to please.

Drink with you soon - and until then - cheers!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pale Deacon

A day late, sure, but who cares - let's check out the Pale Deacon!
Pale Deacon
Taken once again from Esquire's fantastic online database of drinks, available here.

3 ounces London dry gin
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
4 1/2 ounces grapefruit juice

"Shake the gin, sugar, and grapefruit juice* well with cracked ice, then pour unstrained into a chilled Collins glass. Truth be told, we prefer ours with 3 dashes of Angostura bitters -- but we would, you see; we're professionals."

Alright, I played around with this one because of the ingredients I had on-hand, and the spirit (no pun intended) of the recipe.

First, I only had Ruby Red Grapefruit juice available at the Amateur Mixologist studios.  Because Ruby Red is so sweet compared to regular grapefruit juice, I decided that the drink didn't need any more sugar.  So, I didn't add the half-teaspoon.

Also, I used what gin I had on hand, as I ran out of London dry gin a little while back, and didn't have any in stock.  Use any gin you like for this one.  There's enough grapefruit juice used in this recipe to knock out the subtleties of good gin anyway.

Lastly, I went ahead and added the Angostura bitters to the drink, so that I could further cut against the sweetness of the Ruby Red.  I figure the experts from Esquire's drink catalogue know a thing or two about the best way to make the drink.

I can't say that they were wrong!

This was a fantastic drink, entirely refreshing, not too sweet (even using the Ruby Red), and highly drinkable. 

The Pale Deacon works for practically any occasion, save for perhaps the coldest of winter nights when all you want is a scotch and blanket.  And, it can be made in large quantities.  If you do make it in large quantities, know that you need to add the bitters just before serving.  If you add the bitters early, the flavors can expand and expand exponentially.  In other words, add the bitters at the end and control the flavor.

Big fan of the Pale Deacon - hope you love it as well.  Cheers!

Monday, September 27, 2010

What We're Drinking This Week

It's a brief What We're Drinking This Week due to a crushing work schedule...

We're going to bring back the Pale Deacon for tomorrow.  It was originally scheduled for last Friday, but, again, crushing workload and all. 

I'm hoping that on Thursday we can do the Amore Campari, a recipe I found from GQ's website.  As mentioned in previous posts, this is Campari's 150th birthday.  It is a classic liqueur, worth our time and attention.

I had a great weekend, and hope you did as well.  Friday, I went to Art v. Art, at The Vogue theater in Indianapolis.  It was fantastic.  I plan to write more about it this week.  Saturday, I watched my beloved Arsenal lose to West Brom (WEST BROM?!?! Are you kidding me?!?!).  Ugly match.  And, they lost at home no less.  Pitiful.

But, the Colts won on Sunday and things turned right again in the world.

Until tomorrow my friends - have an excellent Monday!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pale Deacon (next week)

We will sadly have to try the Pale Deacon next week.  Today though, I'll be putting up some fresh quality drink links!  Check back in a bit...
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