April 18, 2013


I've been trying to jump on the "Infused Anything" train for a while now. I see beautifully art-directed photos of stylish carafes, sweaty and filled to the brim with some strong, colorful concoction. I assume that whatever it is, it is more delicious for the amount of time spent on it, the amount of preparation that went into it – some extra muchness that only time can impart upon the flavors. And I want them in my mouth.

And so I've tried. Micah and I made a rosemary and lavender-infused vodka awhile back. We tasted it shortly after concocting it, and it tasted amazing. Delicate and elegant and floral and herbal and somehow... English. Like if Downton Abbey was a drink. Hurrah! But within a few days... well, Micah put it best: "You know when you have a beautiful bouquet of flowers and after a few days they start to wilt but aren’t yet dead? Yeah, it started to taste like that." We decided to cut our losses and drain it. Maybe do a little more research next time. Upward and onward!

Recently I decided to step it up a notch and do a taste-test. I made rosemary simple syrup, and used it to make rosemary gin fizzes for the two of us, while simultaneously making a fresh version (just muddling rosemary with honey in each glass), and comparing them. And guess what? The fresh version won. It was slightly more bracing, in a good way, and the aroma of rosemary was stronger.

Last week, I decided to switch it up, and use a different liquor and a different herb. Bourbon and mint. The base for a classic mint julep! I imagined Micah and I, each in three-piece seersucker suits, sipping them from antique silver cups on a wraparound porch somewhere, ending a full day of quail hunting and oyster-eating with our stiff drinks and lively debate about the where to find the best Carolina-style barbeque. (My subscription to Garden & Gun has maybe started to influence my fantasies.) Three different kinds of mint (chocolate, peppermint, and Kentucky Colonel spearmint) were roughed up a bit, stuffed in a Ball jar, and topped with Knob Creek. I tried it right then for posterity (and to ease my obviously over-active imagination). Perfect! Surely time would only intensify it's amazingness.

Two or three days later, I strained out the mint. It tasted alright – not mind-blowing – but once again, I got a definite whiff of "sad bouquet" when I went in for the drink. And that, for me, was a dealbreaker.

(Truth time! It should be noted that I continue to drink this concoction in mint juleps, because I refuse to let that bourbon go to waste. BUT, I muddle fresh mint in it every time to cover the smell. And that, of course, completely negates infusing the bourbon in the first place. Yeahhh.)

SO. Learn from my mistakes and misfires. Now I've come to realize that yes, the magic of a great cocktail comes from the time and preparation put into it (and of course, the quality of ingredients). But whereas before I was thinking the key was Special Bulk Infused Liquor (doesn't that sound kind of unappealing, when I put it that way?), now I believe it's crafting each cocktail one at a time, or at least waiting until the day of to prepare anything in quantity. There is something to be said for paying due attention to building a drink, and tailoring it to whomever is about to appreciate it – and the effort and time you've put into it. Like how a cocktail tastes better when you've watched a skilled bartender create it (and maybe why you're willing to pay $12 for it).

Or how a cocktail tastes best when your significant other makes it slightly sweeter / stronger / with extra olives, because they know that's how you prefer it, even if they think it's blasphemy. And you end a full day of work on your tiny rented duplex porch, wearing comfy pajama clothes and catching up on the small-but-important details of your hours spent apart. Cheers.