Bottle Rockets
By Matt Markovich

Proles on ice

THE SCORCHED- liver policy instituted at the Communist Party, this year's Halloween extravaganza at the Markovich dacha, proved popular with the urban proletariat. I surveyed the mighty motherland from tundra to taiga, from the splendor and opulence of the czar's billiard parlor to the remote (upstairs) gulag to which dissidents would be exiled to be shot (with vodka). My Rasputin costume technically predated the Bolshevik era, but luckily, with the terrible beauty of Miss KGB and master propagandist Trotsky to aid me, my cohosts and I were able to whip the citizenry into a vodka infusion-fueled frenzy.

The shining achievements of this party congress were our 10 pint-size bottles of homemade vodka infusions, packed in a tray of shaved ice along with 15 shot glasses. The process of infusing vodka is comically simple, and I've found homemade infusions far superior to the majority of store-bought ones. Also, it's cheap and easy, so there's really no reason to pay more for artificially flavored vodka.

Rule number one: A good base vodka with relative neutrality is critical. In this case, as we were making a large number of infusions, we opted for the inexpensive yet highly recommended Svedka. It's smoother than other vodkas in its price range (as well as several more expensive ones), so we picked up three 1.75 liter bottles. Rule number two: Always use the freshest, highest quality ingredients possible. The proportions are relatively modest, and the ingredients are usually inexpensive – splurging may mean spending an extra couple of bucks on a really nice pineapple.

Once the ingredients are in the bottle, pour vodka to fill, seal, and place in a cool, dry, dark place. We let ours steep for about three weeks to a month (I tend to prefer mine with as much flavor as possible), though, depending on the ingredients, you may be able to do it more quickly. Taste periodically to determine how it's going, and if the green apple isn't flavorful enough, hey, add more green apple. If the flavor is too strong, dilute with more vodka. When ready to serve, simply strain out whatever matérial you've used and put the vodka in the freezer for a few hours to chill to serving temperature.

Coffee Put enough whole coffee beans in to cover the bottom of the container about two to three seeds deep. The color from the coffee quickly turns the vodka dark brown. With its deep, smoky, shot-of-espresso taste, it makes an excellent coffee martini with the addition of a shot of Kahlua or Bailey's.

Cucumber Peel, seed (important to avoid bitterness), cut into slices lengthwise, then cut those slices in half to fit into the bottle. While it may seem the cucumber taste would be lost in the vodka, it is very present and is a perfect, refreshing complement.

Ginger Peel and finely chop. Be generous. While ginger is pretty potent, it can take a fair amount to really flavor the vodka. This turned out to be the least popular as we didn't add enough ginger. The taste of ginger was there, but it was far too subtle to be noteworthy.

Green apple (Granny Smith) Just like the cuke, peel, seed, and cut into thin slices. The sweet and tangy taste of juicy green apple comes through with a vodka kick. This is for a more refined (read: potent) apple martini without resorting to a candy-sweet liqueur.

Jalapeño pepper Simply cut off the stem, julienne, and pop it in, seeds and all. Over time the vodka turns a light green, and it definitely tastes and smells of jalapeño. Whahh! Hot but not too hot. Excellent base for Bloody Marys or oyster shooters.

Mixed citrus We used only the zest from lemon, limes, and oranges. To me, it smelled like Pledge, but some loved this one. Next time I'll try using the juice, too, instead of only the zest. While the taste of citrus was relatively weak, it did exhibit a sunny yellow tinge.

Pineapple Use the sweetest, meatiest part of the fruit and cut into chunks. This was hands down the most popular. In fact, it was so good that the masses decided to forgo the formality of using a shot glass and simply passed around the bottle.

Pomegranate Seed an entire pomegranate and chuck the seeds into the bottle. The color is eventually leeched from the seeds and turns the vodka a pleasant pinkish hue. This one is subtle but savory, almost like a faint watermelon Jolly Rancher. Persephone's cosmo?

Strawberry Pull off the stem and cut into quarters. While the infusion turns a pleasing strawberry red and smells strongly of strawberry, the taste of the fruit is oddly absent.

Vanilla We used only one pod in this infusion (it's pricey at $5 and so damn worth it), but the taste and scent of vanilla was very pronounced. Another crowd favorite.

Bonus tip the Russian Sno-Cone. Pack a shot glass half full of sno (shaved ice), drizzle with your favorite infusion (or infusions), and have a snowball fight with your tongue. Vanilla-strawberry, pineapple-ginger, vanilla-coffee, or my favorite, vanilla-jalapeño. It may sound nasty, but in the right proportions, you can't taste the jalapeño. The presence of the pepper stokes a fire in your mouth at the end of each cold shot as tongue and mind duke it out trying to determine what the hell is happening.

Waking up the next morning, my body was wracked as if I'd been poisoned, shot, bludgeoned, bound, and stuffed through a hole in the ice to drown in the frozen Neva River. Yes, Rasputin was dead, but my relief was short-lived. Emerging from my room to the aftermath of forced collectivization, it was clear I would have to endure the grim days following our October devolution.

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November 19, 2003