Thursday, June 16, 2011

Messing with vodkas

I am not a drinker. This is somewhat important. I have drunk. I have beers and other bottled stuff that I prefer. Anything with the word Bud or Michelob or Anheiser do not make the list of liquids I consider beverages. I might use them to wash dishes or clear a toilet, but not to drink. As far as hard liquors I know next to nothing. Back in college my brother did make a screwdriver using 50/50 orange juice and 1979 Kansas made vodka. It burned your eyes as soon as he brought it into the room. I know that's bad. And I've sampled some vodka that I was told was good stuff. "Good" is defined as flavorless or close to it. I can't yet tell you what brands to look for.

For this first experiment I got a bottle of Smirnoff. No vanilla or anything. I was to flavor it myself. In the liquor store there were five different kinds of vodka that I knew the names of. They were all priced similarly. How I selected one was pretty much eenie meenie miney mo. When I sampled some later I found it wasn't flavorless. It was a good example of WHY I'm not much of a drinker. Bleh.

Here's why I was buying vodka. Yummy and I had been grocery shopping and had gotten a little basket of blackberries. I don't think I actually ate any. There was still not quite half a basket left when I went back to her place a week later. What was left was starting to go soft and strange. No fuzz yet, but not really appealing and not likely to get eaten. When I went home Monday I took it with me. Being lazy, it wasn't until Wednesday after the staff meeting that I bought some vodka. I took it home and started pushing the blackberries into the bottle that evening. A few had spots of fuzz. They were left out. I had to drain some of the vodka to get them all in. That's when I sampled enough to know not to sample any more. But it did give me a baseline on what this stuff tasted like.

After a day I thought I saw a slight pink hue to the vodka. It could have been imagination. After three days I tipped the bottle over and back up. More color had been collecting at the bottom. I continued to up end the bottle like that every few days. After a week and a half the vodka was the same red as the label on the bottle. I sampled a bit. It still kinda kicked me in the teeth, but you could taste the blackberry.

If you're looking to just flavor your vodka, two weeks is a good amount of time to let it sit. You'll see that while the alcohol turns red and purple that the berries fade significantly. Not white, but that could just be because they were still sitting in dark red liquid.

After 3 weeks I read about using vodka or other drinkable high proof alcohol to extract oils from plants. The oil freezes and the alcohol doesn't. You just scoop out the frozen stuff. Curious, I put the bottle in the freezer to see what happens. I got very cold raspberry vodka.

Last night was 4 weeks. I went to Yummy's to help her carry her new couch home and took the vodka with me. I also picked up some fizzy lemon-lime drink and some pineapple juice. I can't tell you the exact ratios that I used. We used tall glasses like might be used for iced tea. Equal parts fizzy drink and pineapple juice. Probably 1/3 of the glass each. The vodka was added. Maybe 2 shot glasses worth. Very crude estimates.
You could still taste the original Smirnoff. Some of the blackberry came through. It wasn't strong. Another month might have helped.
Overall the drink was good. But really, if you have to add that much other stuff to make the vodka palatable is it really worth adding the vodka at all? Depends on who you are and why you're drinking. I didn't feel much impact, but Yummy was making the argument against being made to stand up.

We both had two glasses. That took half the bottle. I think I'll give the rest of the bottle another month to soak. It'll probably soak in the freezer at Yummy's place though.

Some people have said that after 2 months the stuff becomes thicker and a bit more syrupy. I do intend to  serve the goop left at the bottom when the bottle is empty over ice cream.

When repeating this experiment in the future, what vodka do you recommend? 

If not this week, then next for sure, I'll be trying the oil extraction on the mint in the front yard. Yummy has some other plants that we may try it on. Rosemary, lavender, maybe some orange. Again, do you have any vodka that you'd recommend?

I also want to try to repeat an experiment that I read about years ago. Passing bad vodka through a Brita filter repeatedly is supposed to make it indistinguishable from good vodka. Five passes makes it good. No further gains can be seen after the seventh pass. So I want a thoroughly bad vodka to try it on. Something other than 1979 Kansas-made stuff.


Der_Muffinmann said...

Well, you asked a question. I'll try to answer it as best I can. Bad vodka is easiest to find. It's at the bottom of the shelf, cheapest price, plastic, unrecognizable name. Sometimes Bartons, Popov, Zemkoff or Macormicks are common bad vodkas.

High end vodkas are trickier, because once you get rid of the heat of the cheap vodka, the little nuances come out.

Ethanol is a foul tasting chemical that happens to make people feel happy and social for temporary periods. Anyone who has had Everclear knows why it is diluted and mixed with flavors.

Vodka is commonly 40% ethanol, so the rest is there to dilute and mask the ethanol.

The more it is distilled the better. High end volitiles tend to burn more, and low end volitiles tend to be musty, darker, and foul.

The substrates that are fermented affect the flavor as well. Potato seems to be cleaner, but slightly starchy, and does not mask the ethanol as well. Wheat has very faint cereal notes, and I think has a more typical vodka flavor.

My brother got me to the opinion that Kettle One is the best vodka. However, many sites I checked rank Chopin (a potato vodka) as the best. (Too expensive for my taste).

A few suggestions from me personally is that for its price Polar Ice is a great inexpensive vodka along the lines of Smirnoff and Absolute. Filtering through a water filter works quite well! I was at a place that did some homemade bacon infused vodka. Might be good in a bloody mary. Again, more distillation is generally better. You can always filter it more, but you cannot easily distill at home. Voxx might be good for this. Grey Goose is the most popular. It is really good, but has that distinct vodka flavor, but is much smoother than others.

Cheap - Popov (or equivient)
Moderate - Polar Ice (Smirnoff or Absolute)
High End - Grey Goose
The Best - Kettle One
The Best Alt - Chopin

Ibid said...

Great review, Muffinmann. I'm sure I'll come back to this many times in the years to come.