Humans have been making and drinking alcohol for hundreds of years. But the earliest spirits weren’t exactly smooth or even palatable. (Drinkers must have been pretty cold or pretty thirsty to have reached for a glass.) Back in the day, to make drinks tastier our Eastern European comrades began flavoring vodka with anything and everything they could find, including herbs, vegetables and fruits. Pyotr Smirnov, founder of the eponymous brand, according to Linda Himelstein, author of The King of Vodka, had hundreds of recipes for flavoring his vodkas.
Thankfully the production of vodka has come a long way, but flavored versions of the spirit are, of course, still popular. Just as vodka amplifies flavors in a cocktail, it’s the perfect neutral base for making infusions. (It’s no wonder liquor store shelves are filled with dozens of different types of vodkas.) But flavoring vodka is incredibly easy and allows you to be wildly creative.
Start by filling a sealable glass jar half-way with sliced fruit, herbs or vegetables. Try kumquats, Meyer lemons or kiwi, which are all in season during the winter. You can also use dried, unsweetened fruit that will rehydrate. (Once the vodka is ready, reserve them for cocktail garnishes.) Fresh ginger, horseradish root, herbs (like tarragon) and even tea also work well. Next fill the jar to about three-quarters with good unflavored vodka and seal it. Taste the spirit daily until you like the flavor. Once it’s ready, strain the liquid into a clean bottle. Stored in the fridge, your creation should last for a couple of weeks before losing flavor, and it will taste great in shots and cocktails. (Try my Ruby Chai Appletini and Chi Chi Organico recipes.) Let’s drink to your health!
H. Joseph Ehrmann is the proprietor of Elixir in San Francisco and the Brand Ambassador and Mixologist for Square One Organic Spirits. He is also one of Liquor.com’s advisors.