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.

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.