Pick a flavor, any flavor, and chances are there’s a company making a vodka with it. But let’s be honest—quality, taste and appeal can vary wildly when it comes to flavored vodka. Do you really want a drink that tastes like Swedish Fish, cotton candy or cake batter? Even if you do get your hands on a craftier bottle distilled with natural ingredients, it’s usually pretty one-dimensional.
Why not infuse your own with the sous vide method? You might think that requires a culinary degree and expensive equipment, but it’s easier than you’d imagine. These pros show you how you can easily sous vide at home with true-to-life flavors that will stand out in cocktails. Simmer on!
Limoncello infusion at CREA (image: Scott Suchman)
The first thing you’ll need is the proper equipment, says A.J. Schaller, the executive chef at the Culinary Research & Education Academy (CREA), which has locations in Sterling, Va., and Paris. “A good starter kit for a home bartender would be a circulator and chamber vacuum sealer,” she says. “External sealers are difficult to vacuum liquids because their function is to suck out air along with any liquids inside the pouch.”
Heat-proof gallon ziplock bags could work in a pinch, but she says they won’t completely remove all of the oxygen. A large coffee filter with a fine sieve allows you to strain mixtures while they’re still warm and keep them clear, not cloudy. All of these can be purchased via online retailers or at kitchen supply stores.
Elder Greene Blues
This recipe employs two different infusions made sous vide at the same time.
Adam Gamboa, the lead bartender of Il Posto in Denver, uses Mason jars for his infusions. He recommends that sous vide newbies bring the jars to temperature slowly, warming them up with the water bath itself.
“Keep the temperatures low for fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs,” he says, while “dried ingredients and spices are more durable at higher temperatures.” A good rule of thumb is between 120 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit for the former and 160 to 180 for the latter. Schaller says the sweet spot is below 185 degrees Fahrenheit so you don’t hydrolyze the pectin in any included fruits or vegetables. “This can turn the product into a purée, which is hard to clarify.”
A grapefruit and rosemary infusion is citrusy and herbal and works perfectly in this sour riff.
And while you might be inclined to add a whole lot of ingredients to your infusion, remember you aren’t making gin, so less is more. “Flavor extraction is amplified sous vide, so rather than making a tisane of too many elements, it’s better to stick to one or two main flavors,” says Schaller.
Gamboa hasn’t yet met an ingredient he hasn’t been able to sous vide, though, and he suggests picking up a copy of “The Flavor Bible,” by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, for some infusion inspiration. Having said that, vodkas made with fresh ingredients may lose their freshness after a few weeks.
“Treat it like a simple syrup and keep it refrigerated when not in use,” says Gamboa. Schaller agrees about chilling your creations and reminds you to strain out the solids so the taste will be consistent and not overwrought.