Monday, January 11, 2010
Infusion #1 and Obscure Ingredient Commentary
I like cheap fun. I like food too. Thus, I like infusing things in alcohol. It's yet another outlet in mixology where creativity can be loosed. Even if you don't have a lil barrel to age your own spirits at home, you can still transform something ordinary into something exciting, different, and personal. (Home-infused spirits make great gifts to friends.) This past fall (of 2009) I undertook a small infusion experiment with a fresh seasonal ingredient: cranberries. But honestly, you don't even need to use fresh ingredients... something like dried fruit will add a nutty and dark oxidized flavor to a spirit that fresh fruit couldn't begin to approach... anyone who's made their own brandied cherries from dried cherries to replace their store-bought maraschino cherries knows what I'm talking about.(I'm thinking of making a prune infusion at some point...) You're also not limited to fruit, either. Spices can also be a clever source of infusion, something which I'll talk about in the future on this blog. Hell, there are people who even infuse spirits with wood pieces in an attempt at faux-aging... Oh, and if you think you should only infuse vodka, you're wrong. We already have bacon-bourbon, strawberry tequila, and the list goes on.
I figured that fresh cranberries didn't have a strong enough flavor to sing the lead in a bottle of vodka, so instead I chose a light rum, Cruzan Estate Light, whose laurels on this blog I've already established. I thought that its light sweetness and vanilla and wood tones would go great with the flavor and tartness of the cranberries. Again, I knew that cranberries wouldn't provide much flavor. They really need to be cooked and sweetened for them to shine. You know how cranberry juice tastes so good with vodka? Well, that's not cranberry juice. It's a cocktail of ingredients in which cranberry concentrate is usually used, which has been cooked and then sweetened further.
Anyway, cranberries are hollow, which is why they so conveniently float when their vines are flooded with water for harvest. I decided to rupture each cranberry in the infusion so as to take advantage of all the interior surface area. All you do is pinch the cranberry between your fingers, and the ensuing pop is quite satisfying. Fresh cranberries are also nice to eat, in my opinion. They're tart and fresh tasting, with very subtle vegetal flavors... they are quite acidic, however, so I'm not sure it's a great idea to have them replace your bowl of popcorn when you sit down for movie night.
The busted berries fit conveniently into the mouth of the temporarily-emptied Cruzan bottle. I dropped about 1 cup's worth of them into the bottle, and filled her back up with rum. The infusion only took a few days, as most infusions do. The lightly-tanned Cruzan turned pink, and then redder, and finally an absolutely beautiful hue of red that would rival most Red #4-pumped fruit punches on the market. Assuming it didn't taste awful, I knew that this method was worth the visual results alone. You should taste the infusion each day, and it's up to your taste when to evacuate the "infusor". Fruit sure does look pretty sometimes in that bottle, doesn't it? But if you don't take it out when it tastes good, it's going to start tasting bad. At 3 days, I decided it was time.
The taste? Well, I'm really glad I didn't use vodka, because the cranberries imparted little to no flavor. It did, however, lend a tartness to the rum that is pretty interesting. If one concentrates, perhaps one could discern a slight cranberry flavor, but nothing really worth mentioning. The tartness has virtually rendered the rum unsippable, so cocktails are its only final destination.
In what, you ask? One interesting concoction I made was a variation on the Gimlet on the rocks, one of my favorite cocktails. The cocktail consisted of 1oz gin, 1oz cranberry rum, 1 oz Rose's Lime Juice, and a dash of (real) grenadine to make sure it wasn't too tart, all poured over ice. The results were pleasant. You could really use an infused rum like this in any drink that calls for light rum, but motions should be taken with the recipe to ensure that the sweetness of the drink is not thrown out of balance.
So, what did I learn from my first infusion experiment?
1) Cranberry infusions result in a brilliant color that could be useful and pleasing along with other infusions
2) Cranberry infusions don't provide much flavor, but do provide a tartness that could be useful and pleasing along with other infusions
So I think that settles it. Cranberries will definitely be used in my future infusion experiments, but not alone.
Why I'm not "posting" the above drink recipe on this blog
(Occasionally I will write commentary on mixology and the blogosphere. The following is classified as such.)
And now, an entreaty to bloggers everywhere. Please don't go overboard on posting recipes that require ingredients which are so specialized that no one will make them. Hyperbolic example:
Teh DJ HawaiianCocktail
1 oz light rum
2 oz gold rum
.5 oz lime juice
.25 oz grenadine
1.5 oz orange juice
.25 oz DJ HawaiianShirt's Saffron and Starfruit syrup
Shake with ice and pour into tiki mug. C'mon guys you really need to try this drink! But you gotta make sure you use the best and freshest saffron and starfuit, ok??
Of course I'm being a little facetious here, but things like this need to be kept to a minimum, unless you're explicitly professing to make wacky homemade ingredients and cocktails containing them, at which point readers who are looking for recipes they can easily make at home can simply shy away, if they choose. Not too many blogs commit this over-use of homemade ingredients, but some are certainly worse than others. (no names) Even if you provide the recipe for the unique ingredient, that doesn't mean it's not irritating when you use too many of them. Used sparingly, it's ok... but please, show some self control. And so, since I do my best to(most of the time) post drinks that are accessible* and sane, I will not mark the above Gimlet variation as a drink that will come up on this blog or the internet if someone is actively looking for drink recipes that they could/should make. Not to mention that I'm not sure if that variation is good enough to post, anyway.
*"Accessibility" is a dangerous word for home mixology. There's no way around the fact that an enormous amount of different ingredients are needed for one to be capably equipped to mix any decent amount of recipes that you'll find.
Especially, ESPECIALLY if you are participating in a Thursday Drink Night(TDN) celebration (a weekly event where bloggers and cocktail fans alike join in a chatroom to create their own drink recipes centered around a given theme and to have said drinks mixed on the spot by those who are able in order to provide instant feedback), where inclusiveness and unity are literally the goal of the event, try your best not to post a recipe that contains a home-made ingredient, or even a hard-to-find ingredient, for that matter. If none or only one or two people at a TDN can make the drink you're posting, then why post it? Choose something else so that more people can partake. If you'd rather post a monologue of exclusive recipes, blog it instead.