Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Vodka tasting details

Four palates participated in this double-blind tasting. All vodkas were sampled from tall skinny shot glasses and kept at temperatures (roughly) between 8.5 and 11 degrees C (48-52 F) by (semi) immersion in a groovily lit ice bath (see Fig. 1). Temperature was monitored absurdly frequently using my favorite new toy, a keychain infrared thermometer. We passed each new vodka around silently, then when all had tasted we started describing our feelings for them (there may have been some loss of objectivity at this stage). Ultimately each vodka was rated on a scale of 1-10 by each palate, and after ingesting palate-cleansing science crackers and the odd chunk of fruit (see Fig. 2), we moved on to the next victim.

After one full round of the 10 samples, we ran the whole set again with further discussion to confirm or deny earlier impressions.

The results rather pleasingly defied all kinds of expectations. The two most hideously expensive (Chopin and Hangar 1) tested poorly, while the oft-maligned Smirnoff was rated quite highly by all tasters. Our super-cheapie on-sale Svedka bested its twice-as-expensive compatriot Absolut. Overall there was even a suggestion, although far from statistically significant, of a negative relationship between price and our blind numerical ratings (see Fig. 3, and also full results in the attached spreadsheet). One final note: the lemony sweetness of Cîroc was instantly identified by a majority of tasters, before we'd even had a chance to discuss it and poison each other's minds. It's unmistakeable.

Infusing Vodkas for Pleasure and Profit

According to my research, the elements of successfully infusing vodka are ingredients, proportion, time, and tasting.

I. Ingredients
Wash and slice the flavor elements into largeish fruit-salad-sized pieces, but leave berries whole after removing stems and leaves.

II. Proportions
If infusing non-berry fruit, use 1-3 largeish fruit-salad-sized pieces for 750ml of vodka. If using herbs, use 1-2 fistfuls of the herb (depending upon the potency of the herb); with berries, use 2-4 fistfuls. You may want to berries or herbs a little before adding the vodka, although if you squish them too enthusiastically this will make the vodka cloudy. In general, the more of a given flavor element you use, the less time it will need to infuse (see section IV).

III. Time
Generally, citrus fruits or strongly-flavored ingredients infuse in less than a week, but mellow-flavored or fibrous flavor elements (like watermelon or fresh ginger) can take a week. Really light flavors like cucumber and lavender can take as long as two weeks.

If you can’t tell if it’s done, taste it! If the flavor is too weak, leave it be for another couple of days; if it’s too strong, dilute it with more vodka and allow it to infuse a little longer

V. Miscellaneous
Fruits will continue to ripen while infusing, so remove fruits before they get over-ripe as it will impact the flavor of your recipe (e.g., sliced pears or apples will continue to brown).

If you use a small or particulate flavor element, you may want to strain it out of the final product: line a wire mesh strainer with cheese cloth or coffee filters, set it on top of a bowl or pitcher, and then pour the stuff through.

Our final list was. . .
The Js: Ginger, espresso (grounds or beans?), pomegranate, and mushroom
K & L: Lime, vanilla, raspberry, green apple

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Long-overdue Vodka Tasting Notes

Notes from our double-blind vodka tasting. . .

Vodka #1: Sweet nose, harsh taste; simple & serviceable; inoffensive
Turned out to be: Tito's ($16)

Vodka #2: Harsh finish; metallic or burnt; tastes like refrigerator! but initially citrusy
Turned out to be: Chopin ($39)

Vodka #3: Super-grapey; citrusy or fruity; smooth
Turned out to be: Hangar 1 ($37)

Vodka #4: Grapey start, chemically finish; thin & ungenerous; sour
Turned out to be: Reyka ($25)

Vodka #5: Powerful & smooth; quick sweet start
Turned out to be: Svedka ($16)

Vodka #6: Julie's favorite; velvety smooth & almost chocolatey; citrusy
Turned out to be: Stoli ($31)

Vodka #7: Garbagey smell, mean finish; rough & minerally; hobo vodka from very skilled hobos; bongwater vodka
Turned out to be: Absolut

Vodka #8: A little sweetness; like drinking the magnetic strip off a credit card; fighting finish
Turned out to be: Crop

Vodka #9: Astringently mineral; smooth & polished
Turned out to be: Smirnoff

Vodka #10: Pile o' fruit; lemony citrus
Turned out to be: Ciroc ($25)

Still need prices for: Smirnoff, Absolut, Crop

Edit: More details have been added in this post.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pretty Martini

Unusually, I have a bottle of Amaretto lying around, mostly to add a bit of spice to White Russians, but tonight I decided to make a Pretty Martini.

The recipe is simple:
The vodka cuts the sweetness of the Amaretto pretty well, but the flavors don't mix that well. The Amaretto hits pretty hard up front, and the vodka follows pretty distinctly afterwards. Overall, it was interesting, but definitely not on the hit parade. 

The hit parade will be the subject of a different post . . .

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Not strictly mixology

Wine can be wonderful. It might be slightly out of the purview of this blog to discuss wine as it's not frequently used as a mixer (eeuw). However it is still a drink, and technically winemakers do mix things to make it (grapes, yeast, occasionally water although they don't like to talk about that). So I'm putting up my current list of really, absolutely drinkable not-bad wines under $10. Really. Trust me.

(Full disclosure: I have mixed wines with lots of things they shouldn't be mixed with, and tortured friends with the results at parties. One of my finest concoctions was a sweet-hot blend of Sauvignon Blanc, pear nectar and sriracha. Hard to say what the direct cause of the next day's prolific vomiting was, but I like to chalk it up to alcohol volume rather than specific content.)


Cline Zinfandel (CA) - they have really interesting more expensive wines, but their basic zin sells for $8-10 and is reliably good. I've been drinking it since 1998 and have never been disappointed.

Coppola Rosso (CA) - thick, chewy, and distinctive enough for even me to pull out of a blind tasting (I'm terrible at them), it's a typical loud California red without the screaming fruit. Also have been drinking this one for years and have found it pretty consistent. A blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet. Usually around $9-10.

Excelsior Cabernet (South Africa) - very purple for a Cab, reasonably dry with a blackberry thing happening in there somewhere. Not strictly under $10, as my local wine shop sells it for $12.99, but they put it in the "buy one get the second half off" section, so two bottles come in under $20. Let it breathe for 30 minutes or so. Seems silly for a cheap wine but it helps.


Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc (CA) - it's inoffensive. I don't mean to damn with faint praise, it's really okay. The taste evaporates before you even get a chance to swallow, which is a little unsatisfying, but it's light, slightly acidic, nice for a summer afternoon and really inexpensive. Usually retails for around $7.99. Now if we only had a nice summer afternoon everything would be perfect.

Zarafa Sauvignon Blanc (South Africa) - retails for $3.99 at Trader Joe's. $3.99!! Try it. Nicely floral nose, a bit boring on the tongue. But it has a cute giraffe on the label and is totally drinkable.


Still searching here. The few good pinks I've had have been in the $20+ range, but there has to be a decent cheap one out there somewhere...

Monday, January 5, 2009

Infusion vessels

I came away from our last meeting (vodka tasting extraordinaire) with the job of looking into what kinds of glassware might be available for the vodka infusion extraordinaire project. "Borrowing" that many bottles from work might be - let's say impracticable - so I looked into other sources.

Fisher has some nice-looking science-y bottles that would function well (wide mouths, good sizes). The catch with these is that they're either really expensive or have to be purchased in cases of 900, or both (examples here and here). Jason likes the BOD bottles with the ground glass stoppers, but the stoppers make them expensive as they're specially designed to be gas-tight.

VWR's offerings are similar to Fisher's, although they have these jars which are pretty inexpensive.

And while the nerdy-chic aspect of using true labware is hard to give up on, there are also these juice and salad dressing bottles from a supplier that looks like it might be part of the scrapbooking industry, if scrapbookers started getting into homemade ketchup (for all I know they're already there).

As the lowest-class option, we could all go out and drink at least three 16-oz Sobe drinks and save the bottles. Not quite as special, but again perfectly serviceable.

In the end I think we might be best off making another trip up to Exit 2 in New Hampshire where they're selling the 375 ml bottles of Svedka for $5.29. They come pre-filled!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

They will come

runners up:
Drinking, Thinking and Blogging
Rhymes with "Smodka"
Tastes like Refrigerator
Hobo bong water 
Thin and ungenerous