There are many, many ways to make getting drunk more delicious. Most of these not only make you look like a complete puss, but will also cause maximum hangover nightmare the next day. As we (should) all know, sugar and citric acid are, after dehydration, the biggest causes of morning-after regret. So what if we wanted to make a delicious, flavorful alcoholic beverage without the sugar and stomach-mangling acid that mixers and liqueurs are laden with? We flavor our vodka.
Sure, there are plenty of flavored vodkas available wherever you purchase your libations. You can get vodka in just about every ill-conceived taste profile under the sun. They are manna to teenagers and girl-drink enthusiasts worldwide. So why go to the trouble of infusing? First, let’s do a little defining to delineate the exact difference between a flavored vodka and an infused vodka.
Infused vodka is vodka that has been steeped, like tea, in various things to give it flavor. This could be literally any food item (or, if you’re really adventurous and not so concerned about your health and personal safety, just about any object with an identifiable flavor, I suppose). The process is natural and involves only the vodka and whatever item you soak in it.
Flavored vodka is vodka with flavors added. This is usually done by combining the liquor with chemicals that taste like things. If you’ve ever driven past a “flavor factory”, where they produce these chemicals, you would know that the process that creates them is nothing holy or of this earth. Also, and I have no scientific proof for this, these chemicals probably give you prostate cancer. Flavored vodkas also often contain sugar and generally taste like a Care Bear’s ass. I also have no scientific proof for that last claim.
So it’s painfully clear, at this point, that infusion is the way to go. “But I’m just a moderate-functioning alcoholic,” I hear you say, “not a master distiller. How can I possibly be expected to undertake this difficult and no doubt perilous task?” Well luckily for you, the process is almost embarrassingly simple.
1) Flava In Ya Ear (Note: do not actually put flavors in your ear): The first step is to decide what, precisely, you want your vodka to taste like. “Delicious” is not good enough. Do you want a savory vodka? Something sweet? Spicy? I’ve seen infused vodkas in just about any flavor you can imagine, from watermelon to garlic to bacon. For the sake of specificity, let’s pretend we’re making my current favorite: Christmas Spice Surprise, a recipe of my own devising, the name of which I literally just came up with. Christmas Spice Surprise is a mix of holiday-style flavors that’s perfect for Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza or Atheist Compulsory Gift Day. I know it’s a little out of season now, but it’s a good example of how to do things.
2) Whip It Out: Decanting is a fancy wine term for pouring something out of a bottle into another container. In this case, you pour a bottle of vodka into a Tupperware container large enough to contain the vodka and whatever you’re floating in it. The container must have a lid. Frankly, the vodka you start out with is completely a matter of personal preference. If you drink vodka for the taste, then fuck you. Vodka has no taste, that’s why it’s vodka. Me, I like to start with something nice and cheap, preferably in a glass bottle (we’ll get to why later). This is important: save the fucking bottle.
3) Bust A Nut: This is the part where you put what you’re infusing the vodka with into the vodka. For Christmas Spice Surprise this will be nutmeg, allspice, clove, cinnamon, vanilla and orange peel. When choosing your ingredients, keep a few things in mind. If it’s a fruit or vegetable, you’re probably good with just the base flavor. But if you’re using spices, you might want to consider adding something a little sweet to balance out the taste. Hence the vanilla bean and orange peel in the above recipe – they give just a hint of sweetness to counteract the heavy spice notes of the rest of the ingredients.If you’re using spices, it’s important that you go to one of those fancy places that allow you to buy whole spice – do not put McCormack’s ground cinnamon in your damned vodka, it will make things far more disgusting later. A good rule of thumb is that anything you put in should be easily filtered out with a colander, so when I make my Christmas Spice Surprise I use whole nutmeg, whole allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, cloves and a vanilla bean. The title of this step refers to the fact that you have to break up anything with a thick skin or shell before you put it into the vodka. It also refers to ejaculation, but that is mostly beside the point. To this end (the breaking up, not the ejaculating), I crack the nutmeg nut and split the vanilla bean in half. This allows more of the delicious flavors to diffuse into the vodka, and splitting a vanilla bean makes your fingers smell delicious for hours afterward. In similar fashion, you will want to cut up fruit, break nuts into smaller pieces, etc.
4) Do Me A Favor…Wear Ya Hat: Put the lid on the Tupperware. Give it a shake. Just a little jostle, don’t get all Chris Brown on it. This will help distribute the flavors more evenly. The lid is key – it helps keep too much of your vodka from evaporating, and prevents unwanted flavors like cat hair and gnat from getting in.
5) Some Tantric Shit: So here’s the hard part – now you have to wait. Store your infusing vodka somewhere in plain sight, where you’ll be less likely to completely forget about it. This may not be a problem for you, but I assure you it’s the bane of my very existence. Keep it at room temperature. If you store it in the fridge it will take eons for your vodka to infuse, and you don’t have eons. A few times a day you should give it another gentle shake. Now, there’s no set amount of time to let the vodka infuse. I find it generally takes between two and four days, depending on the ingredients and how strong you want the flavor to be. Keep an eye on it, and taste it every day. Always give a shake before you taste so you can get a good overall sense of the flavor – if you don’t mix it up you may just get a sip of purely nutmeg, and that will not be pleasant for you. In the case of Christmas Spice Surprise you will notice a delightful golden color begin to develop. When the flavor is where you want it to be (note: flavor is most important – the color may develop faster or slower than the flavor, and really, are you planning to drink it or admire it on a shelf?) it is time to move to the next step.
6) Money Shot: This is what you’ve been waiting for. The final step. The explosion of flavor all over your face. Also, probably the most irritating part of the process. First, remember that bottle you saved? Go find it now. Rinse it out. Set it aside. Find a container large enough to contain the vodka – a largish bowl is fine. Find some sort of straining device, like a colander, and pour your masterpiece out of the Tupperware, through the strainer and into the bowl. As stated before, this should strain out all of the big stuff. Now comes the part where you decide how fancy you really are. You should filter your vodka at least once – it will get rid of all the weird little bits of sediment and whatever else has collected over the steeping time. If you’re super-ultra-fucking fancy you can filter a second time, but it’s really probably not necessary, especially if you follow my rules about the size of things you put into your vodka. The filtering will require three tools: a coffee filter, a funnel and infinite patience. Seriously, the sweet nectar will move through the coffee filter at approximately the pace of a glacier moving up a hill, but believe me, in the end it will be thoroughly worth it.
7) Just Chill…Until The Next Episode: The final step is you put that shit in the freezer. I guess this step is optional, but it will improve the drinkability considerably. If you plan to freeze your vodka, you might be wise to give it a little more steeping time, since cold will make the flavors less pronounced. This is where the glass bottle is optimal – putting plastic liquor bottles in the freezer is not only less than classy, but also sometimes imparts icky flavors. Unless you want plastic-infused vodka, in which case go to town.
A few scant hours after placing your bottle of vodka in the freezer, it’s ready to drink. I prefer to quaff mine straight, but it can certainly be put over ice or used in any cocktail you would normally use flavored vodka for. And while you are sipping your new creation, take a few moments to reflect on how much better it tastes than the chemical-laden, manufactured sludge that Stoli would have sold you.