I was thinking to myself the other day that since flavored vodkas were exploding in popularity, I ought to try my hand at making a few batches at home for myself and save a few bucks.
Vodka flavoring is an ancient tradition. It once was used to cover up unpleasant flavors in poorly distilled liquor, but today the craft production of super-premium flavored vodkas has elevated the process to an artform.
It is actually relatively easy to infuse vodka at home. My first experiment was made with pineapple, and it was quite delicious.
There is no reason to use top shelf vodka for infusion. For one, there are reports varying in degrees of success that involve people passing cheap vodka through a charcoal filter like a Britta pitcher and removing impurities from the hooch. Beyond this, if you flavor vodka with fruit, the fruit will temper the aggressive character of the low end spirit. A 1.75 liter bottle of filtered Smirnoff works just fine for this exercise.
Also, the more fruit you use, the merrier. This recipe was quadruple berry vodka, with three cartons of strawberries and two cartons each of raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. The blueberries have to be broken with a wooden spoon in order to impart their flavor. The infusion process takes five days to a week. The pineapple vodka was made with three containers of fresh, core-in pineapples as well as a half pound of pineapple chunks. The core is essential to the tropical flavor. The fruit remains in the infusion jar, and it will continue to develop in flavor over time.
As an added bonus, the fruit can later be used to garnish your drinks. It will taste VERY alcoholic. I've heard a rumor from some college kids that you can get drunk eating the alcohol soaked fruit. Of course, I didn't know that was possible because I spent my college years studying in the library on the straight and narrow path, and that's the story I'm sticking with.
Aside from that, the pineapple vodka mixes well with orange and mango juice. The berry vodka is fantastic straight, and along with the pineapple vodka, mixes well with tonic and lemon/lime soda.
And now in beer................
In no particular order, here are reviews of a bunch of killer beers. Stone 11th Anniversary Ale celebrates the new brewery, and it is made in the same ostentatious style that has made the San Diego brewery famous. The new anniversary brew is a black India Pale Ale (IPA), a deeply colored beer with notes of espresso, tropical fruit and a generous helping of aggressive alpha hops that mark almost every Stone offering. Each beer is also accompanied by a lengthy philosophical treatise on the thinking behind each beer that is heavy on the adjectives and the sarcasm.
Stone also released their newest installment of their vintage cellar dweller XX-XX-XX ale. The brews are released one year and one day from each other and are meant to be aged until a vertical tasting can be held after December 12, 2012. The newest edition is 07-07-07, made with huge quantities of malt and hops flavored with spices and lime, orange and grapefruit peel. I can't wait to drink my 03-03-03 through 07-07-07 vertical in 2013.
Speaking of anniversaries, Sierra Nevada, one of the pioneers of the craft beer movement in the U.S., has issued the first commercial release of their Anniversary Ale. The brewery is 27 years old, and each year they produce a special IPA to celebrate another year of business crafting world class beers. The ale is off dry, made from pale, caramel and Munich malts and treated with a cascade of Cascade and Chinook hops. The beer has both more hop character and greater balance than the flagship pale ale. It is widely available at most retailers that carry the other Sierra Nevada products.
Since the weather has gone all Florida on the residents of Middle America over the last few weeks, beer has been required to tone down the sweltering heat. Few beer styles achieve the thirst quenching character of kolsch beer from Cologne, Germany. Gaffel Kolsch is made at the oldest brewery in Cologne in the classic style. The brew is golden, with a light, crisp malt character and a hint of European hops and citrus. When global warming finally gets turned up to 11, be sure to have plenty of Gaffel on hand so you can rest in contentment while the world burns around you.
As I am an avowed hophead, I couldn't refuse the wiles of the Weyerbacher Simcoe Double IPA. This brew, as well as the brewery, has received critical acclaim for their big beers, which include many highly hopped and barrel aged offerings with enough alcohol to make you see things. Simcoe is a hybrid hop species bred for maximum bitterness without the tongue-scorching character that can accompany some beers made in the heavy handed hops zeitgeist in which we currently live. They brew this selection with a dump truck full of hops, and it is available most of the year. This beer is a monster, and it's meant to be sipped and savored.
Now that everybody is making hop behemoth brews, it couldn't be long until macro micro Samuel Adams tried their hand at a hop heavy brewski. Their addition to the canon of liquidated lupuline is the Hallertau Imperial Pilsner, made from massive quantities of 100 percent Bavarian Hallertau Mittelfrueh hops. This is a deep golden lager with a floral bouquet and a resinous pine finish that is drying and extremely long on the finish. It is good to see Sam Adams making beer that could introduce the masses to the beautiful flavors and aromas in carefully selected hop varieties. Unfortunately, this beer doesn't do much to separate itself from what is becoming a crowded field of big brews. The H.I.P. is good, not great, and too expensive to justify buying over Dogfish 90 or 120 Minute IPA for a similar price.
On the subject of my favorite brewery in Delaware if not the world, the newest Dogfish Head beer treads in both familiar and unfamiliar territory. This is another brewery with a great sense of humor. Previous offerings have included Liquor de Malt, a bottle-conditioned 40-ounce bottle complete with a Dogfish logo paper bag. They also used to make an Imperial Pilsner that was called Golden Shower and changed the name because the government frowns on suggestive alcoholic beverage labels. This beer has morphed into the Golden Era, a continental pilsner made in the idiosyncratic style of the Fish. This beer is a distinctive version of a beer style that seldom distinguishes itself, another success for the folks at Dogfish Head.
Fans of smoke, toast, cocoa and coffee flavors might stock up on the Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout, a 10.6 percent alcohol stout brewed with liberal quantities of black, chocolate and roasted malt. It is brewed in the imperial style. The store I bought it in said this was a new beer, although it is a winter seasonal. It didn't matter, because it is an opaque, complex beverage with more than enough character to transcend the season. I recommend it as a tonic for Yankees fans celebrating their wasted season.
Also on the full-bodied end of the spectrum (and a year away from release date) is the Dominion Millenium Barley Wine. This beer is aged for six months in bourbon casks, and displays a ruddy color along with pronounced notes of grapefruit, vanilla and black pepper. Barley wines are usually an acquired taste, but this may be the easiest drinking beer I've ever tasted with nearly 12 percent alcohol. The brewing facility produces beer for many of the breweries in the vicinity, and the restaurant provides great accompaniment to the seasonal beer offerings that accompany the food. I highly recommend the beers and the Washington D.C. area's first brew pub for any and all occasions.
Great Lakes is one of my favorite brew pubs, and their bottled beer has as much character as a Jackson family reunion. Indians fans looking to celebrate their post-season voyage should head to Great Lakes before, during and after the games for as long as the journey lasts. Their food is great and the beer is even better. One of their most interesting brews is Nosferatu, a stock ale released between August and October. The ruby red beer has a faint sweetness that emerges out of the toffee and cereal notes of the beer that is elevated by an elegant, spicy hop finish. At 8 percent alcohol, this brew might put you in a deep sleep much like the vampire it is named after.
Don't drink and drive, and if you must, make sure to drink better beer while you drive around enjoying the photographs below.