Monthly Archives: February 2011

Infusion confusion

Here's the strained and filtered batch of my lemon-infused vodka. The "citrus spice" infusion is to the left and has not been strained or filtered yet.

Last Friday I dug out from my closet the two big jars that I had filled with fresh fruit and vodka.This was my experimentation with a fresh citrus infused vodka, and after two weeks it was time to see what I had.

This was all new to me and I had no idea what to expect.

I first gave the infusion a quick strain into a class pitcher and then filtered that liquid through my Chemex coffee maker. The Chemex is essentially a big glass pitcher that holds a heavy duty paper filter. Coffee purists would likely be shocked, offended and incensed that I would dare put anything else through a Chemex aside from filtered water and premium coffee, but hey, the Chemex was developed by a German chemist and is really just a piece of lab equipment for making coffee. And at the very worst, if I had some residual citrus flavors in may just enhance my coffee. (A simple soak in detergent and warm water cleaned the Chemex out just fine though. The device is a really nifty way to make coffee and probably worth its own post down the road.)

My first impression of the infusion was a blast of citrus flavor. I had made two batches. One batch consisted of just lemons, the other was oranges, tangerines, lemons and a melangé of spices like cloves and fresh ginger.

I strained and filtered the lemon batch first and was struck by an overpowering lemon aroma. The first taste was just loaded with lemon flavor followed by a rough finish that was a bit astringent. I couldn’t taste the vodka, but Christine, who is more sensitive to spirits, could still taste the vodka.

I had been pretty confident about the lemon batch. Lemons plus vodka is a natural winner, however, I was more excited about the citrus spice blend. This batch had much different aroma that was rich with cloves. The taste, however, was disgusting. Probably one of the foulest things I’ve ever drank. It was okay at first, you could taste citrus and some spice, but then it just devolved into all clove and a really nasty bitterness. The finish just lingered on your throat and it made me quite nauseous. Just nasty. After three tries of the stuff I just poured the stuff down the drain. One whole fifth of vodka lost to beverage experimentation.

What I hadn’t really expected and what you can see from the photo is the bright yellow color. I think this came from leaving the fruit in for more than a week. Most infusion recipes called for only about a week tops, and I did notice the color change started to happen about the eighth day.

So, I’ve concluded that the “citrus spice” was a complete failure. I think it was the clove and coriander that leached out some funky compounds. And I’ve decided that the lemon infusion really turned out to be an arrested limoncello. The color and the taste reminded me of limoncello but two major differences. My infusion has less viscosity and is bitter. Both can be attributed to not adding in simple syrup to the infusion. The sugary syrup smooths out the natural bitterness of lemon and adds a silky, rich texture to the infusion.

In the end, my attempt at infusion has poised me to go on down the rambling road of a limoncello experiment. The bitterness of my batch also likely stems from including the white part of a lemon peel, the pith, in with the infusion. One method to avoid this stuff is to work the lemon with a microplaner to remove only the pure zest from the peel.

I don’t drink limoncello often but to make up a big batch in time to serve it as an icy cold digestif after a summer grill session would be pretty cool.

Deviled eggs and double IPAs

The view from the Vallejo ferry.

My besotted eyes dragged across the menu, another round of Double IPAs and Imperial this and Strong that were on the way to the table, but we needed more food to pair with our ales.

And then I saw it, deviled eggs.

For what pairs better with beer ice cream at close to 1 a.m. than deviled eggs?

Christine and I were with friends in San Francisco recently to be part of SF Beer Week and it also happened to be Strong Beer Month. So on our tour of a few of the city’s best beer establishments we imbibed and feasted in SF style.

Our first stop was the Rogue embassy on Union Street where we sampled a few special Dead Guy releases as well as the Rouge whiskey. The whiskey was surprisingly light but full of delicate malt notes and had a pleasant aroma. There’s a great beer garden in the back of Rouge and it was a perfect place to start our evening as we were able to enjoy the last of a beautiful day in the city. The food at Rogue, we had buffalo wings, bean dip and some waffle fries, was pedestrian bar food but it was only the start.

After Rogue, we took a cab down toward the Giants ballpark to find a place called the “Truck Stop” where some craft brewers were offering up their wares alongside food trucks like “The Rib Whip.” We found the site, a vacant lot, but alas the site only had portable toilets and the ladies in our group refused to stop there before finding some proper facilities.

Thankfully, the 21st Amendment Brewery was only a few blocks away so we hoofed it over there. The 21st Amendment, on 2nd Street, is my preferred pregame stop for Giants games and I always love visiting there. During our most recent visit we sampled through their special offerings that included a dark, roasted double IPA that was pretty inventive and an Imperial Amber that was really good. One disappointment was their Imperial Bitter that was a bit malty and bland. The 21st has great food and we noshed on a Margherita pizza to accompany our ales.

Perhaps we enjoyed the 21st a bit too long because when we returned to the Truck Stop the event had ended. The craft brewers had shut up their shop and The Rib Whip had rolled off onto the busy San Francisco streets to wherever mobile barbecue joints go for the night.

Undaunted we hopped another cab to Magnolia on the Haight for some sophisticated ales and gourmet pub foods. Sophisticated and the Haight didn’t seem to jive with me and, of course, when we stepped from our cab I was accosted by a tall, disheveled and bearded homeless man who said he needed money to help come down from his acid trip. The bar was packed and it was a two hour wait to get a table. We strolled up through the Haight to The Alembic, another hip beer joint like Magnolia, but again we were turned away by a packed house and two hour wait. Then on to a Cuban restaurant that was also packed and required a multi hour wait for a table. Finally our quest paid off when we settled on a Mexican joint where we had some awesome tacos and Negro Modelos.

After tacos, we ended up in a trendy cocktail bar where there wasn’t any special beer or food but we did find nourishment in the goodness of White Russians and Guinness.

Christine and I in our booth at Magnolia. Cheers to San Francisco and cheers to strong beer.

By then the crowds at Magnolia had thinned and we were able to grab a table. And it was then, that faced with a menu decision my stomach and common sense wrestled with desire. But why not? After buffalo wings, bean dip, fries, pizza and tacos, didn’t deviled eggs make sense.

Not really, but when you’re in SF drinking beer, and strong beer at that, order up those deviled eggs son.

And they were Okay, kinda greasy though. The beer ice cream was much better.

Then it was back to our friends’ apartment where there was a tasty of homebrews that resulted in blue ribbons for all.

The next day at the ferry terminal was a little rough, but a top-notch cappuccino from Blue Ribbon coffee softened the edges.

Pushing the boundaries of hoppiness = happiness?

This past friday I was up at a buddy’s place here in Carneros and we opened a 22 ouncer of Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum. This is SN’s “Imperial IPA” offering and a dandy of high alcohol and out of control hoppiness.

The beer is brewed with a heady dose of Magnum, Simcoe hops and other proprietary hop strains exclusive to the good brewery up in Chico. Hoptimum is a golden colored ale with a frothy head and an aggressive slap in the face of hop aromas. What stands it apart from other double IPA’s is a thick resiny finish that’s almost like sipping hop oil.

Not a brew to pound, the Hoptimum is a beer to sip while one reflects on how far American brewing has come.

But has the hop trend gone to far? While the standardized brewing guidelines for an Imperial IPA do allow for “high to absurdly high hop bitterness” it sometimes seems to me an ego contest between breweries to make the hoppiest brew on the market.

This has resulted in some fine beers, Pliny the Elder and Hop Stoopid being two examples. But while drinking a Hop Stoopid one evening I wondered if by trying to achieve the title of hoppiest brew, had American craft brewing begun to leave the rest of the beer loving public behind. For beverage nerds like myself and my friends a 22 ounce of high hoppy ale is an exciting tasting opportunity. For many other drinkers, something like the Hoptimum would likely be disgusting and not anything they would recognize as beer.

But as we have pushed the boundaries of hoppiness, in the high hops arms race so to speak, breweries have also improved overall quality, diversified the American beer scene and truly revolutionized what had once been a somewhat obscure British beer type, the India Pale Ale.

Had it not been for the original Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, that pushed the boundaries of hoppiness back when it was first released we would never have reached this point today at which we can begin to wonder if hoppiness has gone too far. So drink up you hop heads for it is those who continue to probe the limits of gravity, IBUs and hop clonal selection that continue to push American brewing forward.


Drinkin links

Friends of this blog who may have attended Justin-Siena with me back in the old days may remember a kid a few grades below us by the name of Morgan Twain-Peterson. He’s the son of the founder of Ravenswood winery and seemed destined to be in the wine biz. This flattering profile in the Chron’s wine section reveals he did find his way into the wine industry with his Bedrock label that is earning top scores for its Sonoma wines.

Who care who wins the Super Bowl, the game represents everything I dislike about American culture: watching TV, overconsumption and crass commercialism. Here’s a funny drinking game to play during the broadcast, because everyone does have to watch it.

The most talented ribs cook in American Canyon and my good friend John W. tipped me to site with all the latest news from RedHook brewery. I tend to avoid business sites but the RedHook one is pretty cool with a funny blog and some interesting tidbits on limited release beers. I’ll never forget when I graduated from UO we celebrated with a full keg of RedHook Chinook copper ale that lasted all of about six hours. Big John did a couple of keg stands, some shots and punched a dude in the face during a game of frisbee.

If you hate your job then don’t read this because Zane Lamprey has a great gig. He hosts and produces the show Drinking Made Easy in which he and his crew of boozers travel the county seeking out the best bars, breweries, wineries distilleries or anything else with potent potables. I’ve watched the show a few times and it’s great because unlike other beverage shows in which boring hosts have awkward conversations with people and then sip at beverages before announcing bland proclamations like “Livermore wine country is the place to be!” the dudes at Drinking Made Easy get drunk. You can watch the progression from sober to drunk through an episode. My favorite was when they were in a New Orleans bar and challenged each other to eat maschimo cherries that had been soaking in Everclear. Ugggh. The latest episode in Salt Lake was kinda lame because, well, Utah is lame.

Infusion profusion

There are three citrus trees outside of our place in Carneros that are laden with fruit. I got more lemons, oranges and tangerines than I could ever possibly eat, so I figured I’d try my hand at infusing some vodka with fresh citrus flavors.

I picked up some large air tight jars, a handle of Svedka vodka (it’s cheap and pretty good) and picked off a multitude of fresh citrus fruit. Infusing is an incredibly simple procedure in which the alcohol in the vodka strips flavors out of whatever you may using to infuse. I made up two batches, one of just lemons and one with all three types of citrus as well as some fresh ginger and other spices. I’m going to let the vodka steep in my closet for about two weeks and then see what I have. I may have a sour mess, but what I’m hoping for is a fresh tasting vodka that I can just mix with some ice and club soda and, boom, it’s a cocktail.

Doing some cursory research online, I didn’t find much in terms of a scientific breakdown in how much of the flavoring agent should be mixed with the vodka, aside from “more flavor, more fruit” so I just loaded up the jars with as much sliced fruit that could fit. Hopefully this doesn’t make for too strong of an infusion.

You can infuse with anything. I’m sure you’ve all scene the numerous flavors in the liquor store, however my favorite homemade infusion I had was at a bar in Oregon where the bartender had made fresh pepper vodka using jalapenos and habenero peppers. The worst? Whiskey infused with bacon. Terrible.