By Matt Markovich
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
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
E-mail Matt Markovich at email@example.com.