The Bitters Experiment

After macerating for over six weeks I finally decanted my bitters and have been enjoying them in seltzer and cocktails.  I recently had a delicious Manhattan using Woodland Bitters, the brew adding a woodsy complexity to the libation.  I think the Cherry Hazelnut are my favorite and I look forward to another Manhattan using it.

Cherry Hazelnut Bitters

1/2 cup lightly toasted and skinned hazelnuts
1/2 cup dried tart or sour cherries
2 tablespoons devil's club root
1/2 teaspoon schizandra berries
1/2 teaspoon wild cherry bark
1/2 teaspoon cinchona bark
1/2 teaspoon cassia chips
1/4 teaspoon chopped dried orange peel
3 star anise
2 cups 101-proof bourbon, or more as needed

Macerate six weeks and decant.   The original recipe (taken from Brad Thomas Parsons wonderful book, "Bitters") suggests decanting after two weeks and retaining the solids to be boiled in one cup of water over high heat and returning the filtered water into the original brew.  He also suggests adding 2 tablespoons of rich syrup.  I found these extra steps tedious so just left it to macerate longer and I'm quite happy with the results.

Making Bitters

Edible Brooklyn, in their recent alcohol issue, said that everyone in Brooklyn has to make bitters, it's one of the rules.  It's true that I know an inordinate amount of people who make bitters (and beer, mead, hot sauce, play the ukelele, the accordion, etc.).  Bitters are a Very Big Thing in these parts and they're taken very seriously.

Traditionally they're considered medicine and used as a digestive tonic for the occasional upset of overeating.  In the Victorian era they found their way into cocktails.  Once the Manhattan was invented they were assured their place in every bartender's arsenal.

After doing a bit of research online I found a few recipes I wanted to try.  I was recommended to try the Dandelion Botanical Company for my bittering herbs and flavoring agents (I would also recommend Mountain Rose Herbs).  My intention was to follow a few recipes and then continue to experiment on my own.  The primary bittering herb is gentian root, the stuff that made Angostura so famous.  I also purchased chinchona bark, the principal ingredient in creating tonic water (another experiment for later), sarasparilla, devil's club root, black walnut leaf and wild cherry bark.  (The catalog had other things I just couldn't resist ordering including sandalwood powder, patchouli leaf and osmanthus flowers - yet another project).

The recipe I settled on, amongst others, was Woodland Bitters.  I loved the idea of the earthy devil's club root with wild cherry bark and toasted nuts.  I also made a classic Angostura style bitters as well as Cherry Hazelnut Bitters.  If I didn't think I'd be inundated with bitters for the rest of my life I'd be experimenting with many variations (figs, citrus, cranberry, wormwood, etc.), and it's nowhere near Christmas where I could at least hand them out as presents.

              Woodland Bitters
  1. 2 cups overproof bourbon (such as Wild Turkey 101)
  2. 1 cup pecans, toasted
  3. 1 cup walnuts, toasted
  4. 4 cloves
  5. Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  6. 1 whole nutmeg, cracked
  7. 1 vanilla bean, split
  8. 2 tablespoons devil's club root
  9. 1 tablespoon cinchona bark
  10. 1 tablespoon chopped black walnut leaf
  11. 1 tablespoon wild cherry bark
  12. 1/2 teaspoon cassia chips
  13. 1/2 teaspoon gentian root
  14. 1/2 teaspoon sarsaparilla root
  15. 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  1. In a 1-quart glass jar, combine all of the ingredients except the syrup. Cover and shake well. Let stand in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, shaking the jar daily.
  2. Strain the infused alcohol into a clean 1-quart glass jar through a cheesecloth-lined funnel. Squeeze any infused alcohol from the cheesecloth into the jar; reserve the solids. Strain the infused alcohol again through new cheesecloth into another clean jar to remove any remaining sediment. Cover the jar and set aside for 1 week.
  3. Meanwhile, transfer the solids to a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes; let cool completely. Pour the liquid and solids into a clean 1-quart glass jar. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 week, shaking the jar once daily.
  4. Strain the water mixture through a cheesecloth-lined funnel set over a clean 1-quart glass jar; discard the solids. If necessary, strain again to remove any remaining sediment. Add the infused alcohol and the syrup. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 3 days. Pour the bitters through a cheesecloth-lined funnel or strainer and transfer to glass dasher bottles. Cover and keep in a cool, dark place.
So far my bitters have been aging for a little over four weeks.  I think I'll skip parts 3 and 4 and just let them macerate for four weeks and strain thoroughly before adding a bit of water and maple syrup.

Elderflower Liqueur

I posted during the summer about my forays into making elderflower liqueur.  Since then the macerated vodka has been sitting on a shelf waiting for me to pay some attention to it and turn it into a liqueur.  I had nearly a wine bottle full of elderflower vodka and a small bottle of St.-Germain to compare and contrast with my creation.

At the onset the macerated elderflower vodka that I made has a dankness to it, a very green note, one that would lock with clary sage, or lavender absolute.  At first I thought it was a honeyed note that was missing so I sweetened a small batch with Lancaster County, PA, honey.  The dankness in the honey locked with that of the elderflower so that experiment was set aside.

The second experiment I sweetened with white sugar.  In the past I've used raw cane crystals instead of sugar but they add a slight mollasses flavor to the brew, as well as an unpleasant dark colored slimy layer that floats to the top of the bottle as it clarifies.  I'm hoping for a better result with white sugar.

After doing a bit more research in elderflower liqueur I noticed that most of the recipes call for lemons or lemon rinds during maceration, often recommending meyer lemons.  Last winter I made meyer lemon vodka so I did a little tweaking with it.  I also took a look at my collection of perfume oils and decided on four notes to be added;  yuzu, wild sweet orange, neroli and peru balsam.  I made 10% solutions of each oil and added them one or two drops at a time.

Also in my research I learned that most people make an elderflower syrup and then add alcohol to produce a liqueur.  I confirmed this yesterday with a Swiss friend who explained to me how this was done in her country.  Some of the recipes I read also called for fresh lemon balm.

Many trials later I've come up with something I think is truly worth sipping.  I even "fixed" the first and second versions and bottled them separately.  The recipe is a little rough but I think I have a much firmer idea of how to proceed next season.  In the meantime I think a cocktail of elderflower liqueur and champagne would be perfect for the holidays.

Elderflower Liqueur

2 3/4 cups elderflower vodka
1/8 cup meyer lemon vodka
scant 3/4 cup sugar
5/8 cups water
13 drops yuzu dilution, 10%
15 drops peru balsam dilution, 10%
4 drops neroli bigarade dilution, 10%
6 drops wild sweet orange dilution, !0%

Making Elderflower Liqueur

Elderflowers macerating in vodka
A few years ago elderflower became the new darling of the artisanal cocktail explosion.  It was hard following up something as popular as yuzu but those people at St-Germain know what's good.  Elderflower liqueur has been on every mixologist's short list in recent past, specifically St-Germain.  I was astonished to discover that this strange, subtlety flavored libation is a new invention and not the ancient tradition their advertising campaign would have you believe.

Elderflowers grow all over Prospect Park and another artisanal cocktail enthusiast told me that he'd made his own liqueur from the flowers in the park.  I made a point of getting together with another friend, a local forager and farmer, to hunt for the blossoms.  Armed with wildflower guides we set out and identified plenty of look a likes but came home empty handed.  A second foray found what we were looking for.

I've read that the flowers must be picked in the morning when they're at their most fragrant, and that they should be used within two hours of picking.  The stems are toxic and undesirable so the flowers were cut from the stem and placed in a wide mouth jar.  When the jar was full I covered the flowers in vodka and capped it.  I'd also read that the flowers will float to the top, and that the flowers that come in contact with air would turn brown.  The flavor is not altered, it's just not very appetizing, so I placed a clean lid from a slightly smaller jar upside down on top of the flowers to weigh them down under the vodka.  Every day I removed the second jar lid and shook the jar, then replaced the lid.

I macerated the blossoms for a little over a month.  Each day when I shook it I would compare the aroma with the small bottle of St-Germain that I have.  It was only in the last week or so that I began to notice a similarity, prior to that I was wondering if I had the wrong genus.  I find a honey note in St-Germain so now that it's been strained, like many of my other herbal liqueurs, it's waiting for that special local honey to be ready before it's bottled and labeled and ready to use.  Results to follow.

Vintage Chartreuse

I spent a day poking around at estate sales in Long Island with a good friend a few weeks ago and had the good fortune to raid someone's liquor cabinet before anyone else got to it.  I bought four bottles of booze, two whiskeys - one a blended Scotch called Black and White and another nearly empty bottle of moonshine labeled "pot still whiskey".  The third was chosen only for the bottle and label.  I doubt I will ever open that ancient bottle of Freezomint but I'll enjoy it's artificially colored glow on my liquor shelf.

The true find was a 3/4 full bottle of Chartreuse.  I've been doing a lot of research the past few years on herbal liqueurs and amaros and have read abbreviated versions of many of the old recipes.  Of all of the old formulas Chartreuse is the only one still made by Carthusian monks.  They have been making it continuously since 1605.  Other liqueurs have claimed to be made by monks but in reality are made by large companies.  Benedictine, for instance, is an invention of Alexandre Le Grand who made up the story of the liqueur being a medicinal recipe of the Benedictine Monks in Normandy.

Chartruese is a secret recipe of more than 130 herbs and "secret ingredients".  The formula is based on a recipe for an elixir of long life from an alchemical manuscript given to the monks.  The monks intended their liqueur to be used as medicine but the beverage became so popular that in 1764 the recipe was adapted to what is now Green Chartreuse.  In 1838 they developed Yellow Chartreuse, a sweeter version colored with saffron.  Only two monks have the recipe at any one time and they are the only ones who prepare the herbal mixture.

I took the vintage bottle to my local watering hole, the magical Barbes in Park Slope, one Saturday afternoon and presented it to the bartender who expertly removed the rotting cork without getting any in the bottle.  We poured a glass of the vintage and a fresh glass from the bar.  To my amazement there was a woman sitting at the bar who had just written a paper on Chartreuse for her French class.  I sat with her comparing the two liqueurs and taking notes on anything that jumped out at me.  Each sip revealed something new.  One sip would coat my mouth in angelica, the next in mace, then mint, then vanilla as I swallow.  I know that Chartreuse is sweetened with honey which is much more apparent in the vintage bottle.

I've been macerating herbs for the past couple of months to make herbal liqueurs.  One of them, a creation of my own which reflects the herb garden at 6/15 Green Community Garden, has a strong similarity to Chartreuse.  Angelica is the predominant note in chartreuse and the garden happens to have a healthy specimen.  I used the fresh green leaf and stalk, dried root that I dug up last fall and the seed I had collected.  I used nearly every other herb growing in the herb patch including chamomile, lemon balm, hyssop, mint, rosemary, basil and sage and fresh spices from the Park Slope Food Coop like cloves, mace and saffron as well as some dried herbs from my collection.  This is my second year in a row creating a liqueur from the garden and I'm hoping this year's will be better for the few tweaks I made in the recipe.  It's strained now and aging while I ponder which honey to use.  I'm hoping to get some local Brooklyn honey at the farmer's market to keep it as local as possible.  I'll be serving my elixir come holiday time.

Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff growing in the 6/15 Green Herb Garden
About ten years ago I bought a sweet woodruff plant from the Greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn.  I put it in the postage stamp garden in the front of my brownstone where it lived for a few years before I transplanted it to the newly renovated herb garden at 6/15 Green Community Garden.  The first spring that it came back in it's new spot I decided to try to make May Wine.  If memory serves I picked several blooming branches and twisted or wrung them out to bruise them and stuffed them into a bottle of German Rhine wine.  Then I recorked the bottle and let it sit for about a week before I filtered and drank it.  I remember loving it, the woodruff had added a green and sort of balsamic note to the sweet wine.

The wine was meant to be drunk on May Day and I never got the timing right again and so never made it again.  It's a shame that I denied myself all those years simply because I couldn't drink it on the actual day.  This year, with spring coming early, I had a chance to catch it in time, not to make May Wine, but to make liqueur.

Sweet Woodruff (Asperula odorata) was used as a medicine in the Middle Ages, mostly as either a poltice for cuts and wounds or a strong decoction for stomach troubles.  It is known mostly for its sweet scent due to its high coumarin content, the chemical known for giving new mown hay its distinctive odor.  Bundles and garlands of woodruff were hung around the house in the heat of summer to "attemper the air, cool and make fresh the place, to the delight and comfort of such as are therein" and is reported to "make a man merry" according to Gerard.  The dried herb may also be kept among linens to sweeten them and protect them from insects.  It was also once used to stuff beds.

Sweet Woodruff drying on parchment
I've read that the coumarins in the plant don't come out until the plant dries.  I picked a small amount and left it to dry overnight on a parchment lined rack.  Right around the 24 hour mark I noticed that the leaves had taken on the distinct smell of fresh mown hay.  It was delicate but it was there.  I thought I'd leave it another day and see if it deepened.  The following morning the leaves had lost their scent almost entirely.  I picked another bunch and kept an eye on it around the 24 hour mark and began my maceration then.  I wrung it out much like I did with the wine and poured a cup of vodka over it.  The liquid began to take on a lovely pale green which deepened to the color of good fruity olive oil.  After two days I decanted it.  It tastes and smells of grass with a honeyed hay note.  I've made three successive batches.  I'd like to try sweetening some to make liqueur, and save some to add to the herb liqueur I'd like to make from the 6/15 Herb Garden this summer.  And of course some of it will be experimented with in Cocktail Lab.  I'll run out eventually but it will be just another thing to look forward to next spring.

Three batches of Sweet Woodruff Vodka

Spring Foraging Inspires (What Else?) New Cocktails

I took a long walk in Prospect Park last week with fellow naturalist and forager Josh Kalin in search of elderflowers in hopes of making elderflower liqueur.  With a little internet research I learned a few ways of creating it and how to identify the plant.  Unfortunately our search wound up empty, at least as far as elderflower was concerned.  We determined that the flowers weren't open yet and made arrangements to hunt again another day.

Not to be deterred we walked on and started hunting for other bounty.  The park is loaded with garlic mustard, a non-native "weed" that the park would rather eradicate.  It's one of the plants I don't feel any hesitation about harvesting knowing that it does more good than harm.  We also harvested violet leaves and flowers, curly dock and gout weed, and stopped to sample a few other things along the way as well.

Still, I had cocktails in mind, or at least the macerated elixirs that plants and spirits engender.  I remember long ago chomping on sassafras along the Long Meadow.  Josh remembered another sassafras tree in a wooded area and took us to the spot where he'd harvested before to make a sassafras root liqueur.  We climbed over a lot (I mean a lot) of downed trees from last year's tornado, as well as some of the other violent storms we've had the past year, looking for the small saplings that sprout but die soon after since there's not enough light to sustain them, all the while tripping over tree branches.

I picked both leaves and pulled up sapling roots.  The leaves I left to dry overnight since they seemed very watery.  The roots I gently scrubbed clean and left to dry overnight.  Then they were carefully cut up with my garden clippers as a knife didn't seem to do it.  They've been sitting in vodka for over a week now and I think I'll leave it a bit longer.  So far it smells earthy, licorice-y and definitely has notes of root beer.  The leaf I filtered the next day.  It's incredibly dark and viscous, I can't even see through the bottle.  I filtered it six days ago and there's no sediment and it hasn't clarified at all.  It tastes really nice, tho, and very different from the root.  I'm thinking sassafras and soda's in the garden this summer.

The best recent discovery was the sweet woodruff in the herb garden, but that's another story for later.

New Flavors for Vodka

Every so often I get inspired to make some new cocktail fixings.  I thought that before the winter's bounty of citrus fruits were over and done I should try infusing some zest and see what I could come up with.  Meyer lemon was the first venture.  It's a lighter and fresher version of a regular old lemon, much more perfumed.  It probably won't hold up to stronger mixers but I think it would be lovely with tonic or club soda.  From there I made pink grapefruit and minneola tangerine.  I'm imagining paring some of these with vanilla for some interesting creamsicle variations.

horseradish root
Also had the good fortune of being present when the horseradish roots were being dug up in my community garden.  I've always thought horseradish vodka was a natural, being halfway to a Bloody Mary already.  My specimen was long and thin and fairly easy to clean so I opted out of peeling and just chopped it up.  I used about two and a half tablespoons of chopped fresh horseradish to one cup of vodka and let it sit for just a day before straining.  I also made a batch with a teaspoon of crushed black peppercorns.  I'm so intrigued by the possibilities that I ended up buying another horseradish root and making more.  I have fresh tomato season in mind, so this second batch is being put away for safe keeping.

Cocktail Lab, Summer 2011

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.

The Shihito

I jigger shiso vodka
4 thin cucumber slices
1 mint leaf
1/2 teaspoon sugar
pinch of salt
2 drops of yuzu essence
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.

The Latest Batch of Cocktails

Better late than never!  I've been remiss in posting the recipes for the last batch of cocktails, so without further ado:

The Arrow

one jigger cinnamon infused vodka
one jigger creme de cacao
one drop jasmine absolute, 5%
splash of club soda

Give the combined ingredients a
good shake and strain into a chilled martini glass.

Breakfast of Champions

1 jigger honey oat infused vodka
one jigger milk
1 drop sandalwood oil, 10%
1/8 teaspoon chamomile water

Give the combined ingredients a good shake and strain into a
chilled martini glass.

The Barry White

1 jigger star anise infused vodka
1 jigger creme de cacoa
1/2 ounce POM
4 drops blood orange dilution, 10%
Give the combined ingredients a good shake and strain
into a chilled martini glass.

All of the essential oil dilutions and chamomile water can be found at

Winter Cocktail Tasting

Saturday, February 12th
4 - 6pm
Prospect Wine Shop
322 Seventh Ave. (btwn 8th and 9th)
Park Slope, Brooklyn
Cinnamon, star anise and oat/honey vodka are featured in this winter's cocktail selection.  Stop on by and sample The Arrow, an aphrodisiac blend of cinnamon vodka, homemade creme de cacao and jasmine essence.  Along those lines is also The Barry White which is made of star anise vodka, creme de cacao, pomegranate juice and blood orange essential oil.  Finally and quite by surprise is The Breakfast of Champions, a luscious concoction of oat and honey infused vodka with milk, chamomile water and sandalwood oil.  It's cold out, come have a drink!

Cocktail Lab, Winter 2011

Last summer I started out the Year in Vodka with some herb infused spirits with fresh floral notes.  In the autumn I experimented with dried fruit and nut infusions.  This winter I tried my hand at some spices and grain flavored vodka.  Cinnamon vodka turned out to be a huge success and it pared nicely with homemade creme de cacao as well as, surprisingly, orange juice.  Star anise vodka pared nicely with pomegranite juice creating something that tastes a lot like an old fashioned Good n' Plenty candy.  Ginger turned out to be a big disappointment and came out rather dull indeed.  A friend picked up some dried persimmon which made a delicious subtly sweet brew, better served alone so as not to mask its subtleness.  The surprise concoction was the sweet and satisfying honey and oat vodka.  Don't turn your nose up just yet.  I found the recipe on Chowhound and it was something they picked up from Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

Star anise floating in vodka

Every season I experiment with a different batch of flavored vodkas.  When I'm done I gather some mixers I think might be appropriate, make lots of ice and make sure I have plenty of clean glasses.  Then I host an evening with a few women friends which we've come to call Cocktail Lab.  All three invited guests - Diane Fargo, Lori Firpo and Rebecca Winzenried - are all well-traveled, been wined and dined and do their fair share of cooking.  They are Foodies with sophisticated palettes, a pretty tough crowd.  Together we compose a drink which I then shake up for us and split into four short glasses.  Then we all taste and discuss.  Alterations are made and the next cocktail is attempted and so on and so forth until the recipe has been perfected.

Come and sample the finished creations at the next tasting on Saturday, February 12 from 4 - 6pm at Prospect Wine Shop, 322 Seventh Ave. in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Autumn Cocktails: The Recipes

Here are the recipes from the latest cocktail tasting.  It's hard to say which one was the favorite, everyone had their own.  I know the first to run out was the Black Dog but I suspect that's because of the homemade Creme de Cacao.  Enjoy!

The Bindi

one jigger pistachio infused vodka
one ounce milk
quarter teaspoon rosewater
one teaspoon agave nectar
one drop clove oil, 20%

Give the combined ingredients a good shake and strain into chilled martini glasses. Finish with grated nutmeg. 

Black Dog

2 ounces pear infused vodka
one ounce creme de cacoa
one drop labdanum absolute dilution, 10%
splash of soda

Give the combined ingredients a good shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. 

The Kashmere

one jigger fig infused vodka
one jigger pear nectar
two drops coriander oil, 10%
splash of seltzer

Give the combined ingredients a good shake and strain into a chilled martini glass.

 All of the essential oil dilutions can be found at

Infusing Vodka with Dried Fruits and Nuts

An Infusionary Tale

I've spent the better part of the last month brainstorming, shopping, experimenting and finally beginning to imbibe some fruit and nut infused vodkas.  After my summer cocktail tasting at Prospect Wine Shop working with herbs and summer fruits, my attention turned to the flavors of autumn and what I'd like to be drinking come October and November.  Here it is mid-October and my labors are starting to come to fruition, so to speak.

I began with nut vodkas, knowing that they had to steep longer that fruits or herbs.  My favorite nut is a toasted hazelnut so that kicked off the project.  I toasted them myself in a dry cast iron skillet on a carefully watched flame.  You have to pay attention it never smokes and that the nuts are turned regularly so they don't burn.  After a while you can hear the skins crackle and they start to release their aroma and get a bit golden colored.  When they get to the desired color transfer them to a bowl to cool thoroughly.  Once you can handle them rub the skins off one by one.  Now they're ready to be chopped.  As you can see these are a labor of love.  The end result is worth it.  Use about a quarter of a cup of chopped hazelnuts to one cup of vodka.  Shake them daily and let sit for about a month before filtering.

Toasting hazelnuts

I also made toasted walnut, almond and pistachio.  The walnut was good, nutty but wasn't distinctively walnut.  The almond was similar, maybe should be tried without the skins, but was much improved with a splash of pear nectar.  The pistachio, however, is divine, although I noticed that it can't age for too long or it can take on a soapy note.

Then I moved on to dried fruits.  Pears were a certainty and it turned out beautifully.  I had three kinds of figs to test:  organic Turkish,  pajerero and black mission.  The black mission fig vodka is a winner and is a beautiful purple color.  The fruit releases it's sweetness without being cloying so they're nice to sip alone or can mix with juice without getting too syrupy.  I used roughly about one third cup dried fruit to one cup vodka for about five days.

Black mission fig vodka
 After filtering them I got a better idea of what works and what doesn't and made more of the tastier things and drank the rest with friends.  Now it was time to play mixologist.  I took a good look at my essential oil collection and made up some new dilutions to play with.   I've added cardamom, clove, honey absolute, labdanum and sandalwood to the dilutions collection.

I have a lot of experimenting to do but the drinks are starting to take shape for the next tasting on Saturday, November the 13th, between 4pm and 6pm, Prospect Wine Shop, 322 Seventh Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  Check out their website at for information on other tastings or stop by to peruse their extensive selection of fine wines and cocktail fixings.


I've developed a real passion for mixing cocktails lately.  It all started with a phone call from my local watering hole.  They were trying to conjure up a new summer cocktail with cucumbers and asked me to come down and help out.  I had such fun collaborating on that drink and it got me thinking about the ingredients from my apothecary. 

Infused Vodka

First I started experimenting with infusing vodka with herbs from my local community garden.  I began with angelica which is in the celery family but with a twist.  It's one of the main ingredients in Chartreuse.  It's been a big hit at garden parties this summer. After spending quite a bit of time on the internet reading about infusing vodka I was surprised by how quickly the vodka took on the flavor.  Although I had read that it took weeks to infuse, some were ready in less that 12 hours.  I tried to filter them before the herbs released their bitterness.  Simply chop up the herbs (I used about six or seven six inch stems of plant material per cup of vodka, discard any brown or damaged parts) and place in a clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid and cover with vodka, shake and test in about eight hours.  I tried my hand at lemon verbena, lavender, chocolate mint, lemon thyme, tomato leaf and basil. Angelica was done quicker than most but I hardly left any of them in longer than 24 hours.  The exception was the vanilla.  Vanilla pods can be sliced and scraped, chopped and added to vodka (I found one pod per cup worked) and leave for at least a month.

Take good notes while you're working. That way you can repeat your efforts when you finds something you really like.

I realize that all of the herbs I worked with might not be available to everyone. Look over the herb selection around you and see what's reasonable. Other herbs would be lemon balm, rose geranium, fennel, shiso, citrus, berries, etc. I made one with cucumber and mint that was interesting, but it might be better in white rum. I also tried a couple of chocolate vodkas.

I took a good hard look at my essential oil collection and came up with a few that might lend themselves to a good cocktail, yet not so ordinary that you couldn't just get the original material (such as orange or peppermint). I've made up dilutions that can readily be mixed into cocktails. A bottle holds about 90 drops and in general you use one drop per drink.   You can purchase the dilutions from my website:

Then it was a visit to the food coop and local bodega to contemplate juices. What I've come up with are three cocktails that my good friends were happy enough to help me hone.  

Summer Crush

1.5 oz. lemon verbena infused vodka
1.5 oz. passion fruit nectar
one drop petitgrain essential oil, 10% dilution

Give the combined ingredients a good shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. 

The Silk Route

1.5 oz. apricot nectar
one drop jasmine absolute, 5% dilution
one drop coriander co2, 10% dilution

Give the combined ingredients a good shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. 

The Sprite

1.5 oz. basil infused vodka
one drop yuzu essential oil dilution, 10%
one drop black pepper essential oil dilution, 20%
1.5 - 2 oz. tonic water

Shake with ice and pour into a short glass. Garnish with a fresh basil sprig. 

More Drink Ideas

At another garden gathering I brought an assortment of infused vodkas for everyone to sample. I also bought four bottles of seltzer and put a tablespoon of rosewater in one, orange blossom water in another, rosemary and chamomile waters in the last two. Guests mixed and matched concoctions and I got a chance to sample quite a few. It would be hard to pick one combination! The flavored seltzers on their own were lovely and refreshing.

And one more cocktail!

After my initial experience with the "Cujito" at Barbes I stopped back in to mix up some more magic. In a collaboration with bartendress Hannah Cheek came the Bloody Hell.
The Bloody Hell 

Muddle a few sprigs of mint in about a tablespoon of creme de cacao. Add two ounces of white rum and two drops of blood orange essential oil dilution, 10%. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Outrageous.

Disclaimer:  I must unfortunately dampen the mood of this cocktail page by a standard discalimer. These recipes and instructions are purely a tale of how I spent my summer.  I don't recommend any of this.   Please use caution and discretion.  Make sure to know the effects of any herb or essential oil before you begin.  Essential oils are intense concentrations so use carefully.  None of this is FDA approved.  Use only the amounts specified, never use synthetic oils, do not drink essences directly from the bottle, keep away from small children, be cautious of allergies, do not ingest if you are pregnant or nursing.  And of course never get behind the wheel of a car after imbibing alcohol. 

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