To real mixologists, pre-flavored vodka is the Circus Peanut of the cocktail world. A comical simulation and fine for a quick fix—yet upon sobering inspection, there’s always that question: Why does this taste like ass? This cheap compromise is largely to blame for most folks’ aversion to fruity cocktails (i.e., “I ain’t drinkin’ no damn cough syrup, man”). Scary how from just one bottle of Stoli Razberi, a million odd-colored cocktails may spawn: the Chocolate Cherry Kiss, the Fruit Roll-Up, the Raspberry-Kazi, or in its worst incarnation, the Wild Squirrel Sex.
Oddly enough, fresh fruit-infused liquor isn’t that hard to make—in Russia they’ve been doing it for centuries. In an effort to mask impurities found in the early vodkas, they used fruit, plant, or herbal flavorings. With a tight-lidded jar and a willingness to cut up a helluva lot of fruit, anyone can do it. Virtually any type of fruit can be used, but “harder ones are better,” says Elena Ferrara, manager of the Russian Vodka Room. She suggests “peach, apricot, cranberry, raspberry, oranges, grapefruits . . . because they give more flavor.” (For more instruction, check out Cocktail Times‘ useful vodka-infusing guide and infused-vodka.com.)
Of course, living in New York, most of us are lucky to have enough time to nuke Ragu, let alone conduct our basement alcohol experiments. Fortunately, many bars include homemade vodka infusions and accompanying cocktails creations on the menu. Anyway Café, which claims it is the first to offer vodka infusions in the city, mixes up a Romanoff Bloody Martini (ginger vodka, horseradish vodka, chili pepper vodka, tomato juice, spices, $8); the recently opened Orchid Lounge combines two house infusions in their Apple Blossom (homemade apple-cinnamon vodka, vanilla vodka, triple sec, dash of sour mix, $8).
Here are some of our favorite vodka-infusing bars, both old and new:
1 Russian Vodka Room Cranberry, peach-apricot, garlic-pepper-dill, bitter citrus, raspberry, strawberry, horseradish, and ginger (shot: $5.75; 8 oz. carafe: $21; 26 oz. carafe: $58; tasting ice rack of six different kinds, served on ice: $42).
2 Anyway Café Apricot, cranberry, black currant, mango, apple, lychee, raspberry, pineapple, ginger, honey ginger, chili pepper, horseradish, wasabi, and mixed fruit (shot: $5; 8 oz. carafe: $18; 16 oz. carafe: $28.00).
3 Pravda Raspberry, ginger, black currant, pineapple, citrus, mango, fig, cranberry, and chili-horseradish ($7.50; 7 oz. carafe: $22).
4 Mama’s Bar (Currently) Strawberry, raspberry, orange, grapefruit, vanilla, vanilla coffee, and ginger (on the rocks: $6).
5 Orchid Lounge ginger, lemongrass, apple-cinnamon, cinnamon, pear, and vanilla (shot: $6).