Every season has inspired me to make new vodka flavors. Summertime has it's bonus of fresh herbs straight from my garden. As I weed, water and muse over my plot I start to imagine the frothy cocktails being shaken up from these freshly macerated liquors. Once I have a few flavors to play with I gather up some possible mixers to go along. Lemons, limes, tonic and club soda are a must as well as a long lingering look at the juice selection at my food coop and local grocery store.
Once I have everything assembled I invite my fellow cocktail lovers over for another round of Cocktail Lab. On hand were Lori Firpo, Diane Fargo and Rebecca Winzenried
. Food is required lest we lose our senses in drink. This round had lots of fresh vegetables and dip plus some delicious shrimp dumplings from Chinatown.
After feeling like I'd used all of the best ideas for flavors in last summers extravaganza I stumbled upon some overlooked plants in my community garden. Red shiso was one such plant. I'd only ever had it in sushi before but sampled some while weeding one day and was pleasantly surprised. It's in the mint family but has a dinstinctively anise like flavor. I used the leaves of an approximately ten inch stem chopped up in once cup of vodka and let it sit for about a day. The resulting liquid is a gorgeous pink color.
Another overlooked herb I infused was Sweet Annie. This plant has been popping up all over the garden since I joined eleven years ago. Up until last summer no one was able to identify it until one member made it her mission. It's an artemesia, a relative of wormwood, and sometimes referred to as Sweet Wormwood. It's aroma is described as camphorous and there is definitely that note but there is so much more going on. It's sweet and lightly floral quality makes it an intoxicating beverage.
My recent foray into tincturing and creating extracts has me sampling the many types of tea available. I'd heard about tea infused vodka before but it never appealed to me until I inhaled the sweet aroma of some organic peach flavored black tea extract that I recently made. Now I'm busy reading up on tea and collecting a few varieties. I steeped some organic Assam for our little soire.
The last vodka I conjured up is made of basmati rice. I love the sweet perfumed fragrance of basmati rice and after the success of the honey oat vodka from last winter I had a feeling it would be a hit.
Thus assembled and fed we began to conjure up some ideas. I'd been thinking about shiso vodka and that fresh garden cucumber in the fridge all day. It took several rounds for us to hit on a recipe for something we're calling The Shihito, a delightfully refreshing libation with muddled cucumber and yuzu
We started a recipe for a tea and lemonade cocktail with a muddled mint leaf and honey absolute. I want to work on the tea vodka to perfect that one. Ideas are brewing for the basmati rice vodka (saffron?) and a few other things, one inspired by spumoni. Stay tuned.
I jigger shiso vodka
4 thin cucumber slices
1 mint leaf
1/2 teaspoon sugar
pinch of salt
splash of club soda
In the bottom of a glass muddle the cucumber and mint with the sugar and salt. Add the shiso vodka and yuzu essence. Fill the glass with ice and top with a splash of seltzer. Relax and enjoy the flavors of summer.