During the early days of the so-called Cocktail Renaissance—when old recipes and lost spirits were being revived and bartenders were playing with all manner of ingredients—vodka had a bit of a slump. Not so much in sales, as it remained the top-selling spirit on the market and likely will remain so, but at least in the eyes of bartenders and many fans of cocktail culture. Its role as a neutral-grain spirit—that is a spirit without much in the way of assertive flavor—saw it labeled as something approaching useless in “serious” drinks.
However, one area where vodka shined, and where it continues to shine, was in infusions. Even today, when vodkas are starting to be more celebrated for their nuance, the relatively neutral characteristic of vodka lends it to infusion, letting the flavors of the added ingredients, whether they be fruit or herbs or something else, come through clearly. In the Ruby Patch, from bartender and bar owner H. Joseph Ehrmann, Numi organic chai tea is infused in vodka, which is then flavored with strawberries and mint.
In this bright and fruity summer libation, Ehrmann opts for Square One Organic Vodka. As a San Francisco bar-owner, Square One is a local spirit to him, made right there in the Bay Area. Given that it’s primarily a vessel for the tea, other vodkas can fill in, so feel free to use what you have on hand so long as it’s of decent quality and doesn’t come already flavored.
The tea, on the other hand, is a little harder to substitute for. Ehrmann uses Numi Ruby Chai, a caffeine-free rooibos-based chai. The brightness of the South African red bush helps balance the rich spice from the chai blend, making for an overall brighter infusion. Like the Square One, Numi is local, as the company is based in Oakland. Still, other rooibos-based chais can stand in, if needed.
To really punch up the brightness and fruitiness of this summery drink, it gets a handful of mint and strawberries muddled in it. As with all drinks that involve fresh fruit, it’s best to wait until the berries are in season before making this drink. But during other times of the year, you can use the same chai-infused vodka to make another of Ehrmann’s drinks: the Ruby Chai Appletini.
- 2 medium strawberries
- 2 mint leaves
- 1/2 ounce agave nectar
- 1 1/2 ounces tea-infused Square One organic vodka*
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- Garnish: strawberry
In a shaker, muddle the strawberries and mint with the agave nectar.
Add the vodka and lemon juice and fill with ice, and shake until well-chilled.
Double-strain into a Collins glass filled with fresh ice.
Garnish with a strawberry.
*Tea-infused Square One organic vodka: Place a Numi ruby chai tea bag in a large cup and add 6 ounces Square One organic vodka. Let stand for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bag and squeeze over the cup.