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.