Blueberry Lemon Vodka

Posted on Aug 2, 2012

Summertime brings loads of berries to the produce carts that populate corners all over the city. They usually have good prices, but this year I discovered something cool–berries go on sale late at night! Coming home between 10pm and 1am on three different nights, I passed a cart on 14the St with berries on sale, once at 2 for $3, and another time 3 for $5!  I don’t know if this is true of all carts–I suspect it is–but in a heatwave like we’ve had, berries are particularly vulnerable. To preserve them, I pop the packages in the freezer as soon as I get home. Once frozen, I transfer them to a zip top freezer bag and tuck ‘em away for blueberry pancakes sometime down the pike.

The last time I happened upon this bonanza of cheap berries, I went straight to a liquor store for a liter of cheap (but very clean tasting) vodka [see my side bar] to make an infused vodka, inspired by MyMansBelly.com.   I’m not a fan of creamy cocktails, so I set about to make something with my berries and vodka that was full of summer berry flavor, but had a hint of sophistication. I ended up adding a vanilla bean which brings a subtle creamy mouthfeel to the party without making it all about the vanilla bean. It was just the touch I was looking for to support the berry and citrus flavors. I like-y very much.

As lovely as this infusion is all by itself (carefully chilled, of course), swigging shots seems a bit of a crude reward for all the care that went into its creation, so I came up with three cocktails that really showcase this vodka’s imbued flavors. The first uses a sparkling Spanish cava (or prosecco or champagne, if you like) and orange bitters to give the berries and citrus a bubbly dry finish. The second is a take on the now-classic modern fruity martini. Watch out–don’t let all that berry flavor fool you. There’s only a tiny bit of lemon juice in this, so it’s nearly all hooch and it packs a punch! [Disclaimer: DRINK RESPONSIBLY]

Finally, I went upscale with the all-too-common vodka tonic using my infusion with my friend Tom Richter’s amazing product, Tomr’s Tonic. Don’t try this with bottled tonic. In a word, they suck. Tomr’s Tonic is a handcrafted elixir of organic, impeccably sourced ingredients combined to create a tonic like no other. 

My friend Tom Richter is just inspiring. The man is a talented actor and singer, but he’s also a fantastic cook, oenophile and an expert mixologist.

He told me that in blind tastings, one of the cheapest bottles on the shelf comes out on top time and again: Luksusowa [pronounced look-soo-SO-vah]. A Polish potato “wodka,” with a clean, neutral taste–like a vodka should have–it’s perfect for cocktails. It consistently wins high ratings and medals at international competitions. And it’s only 15 bucks a liter. That’s right. $15 a LITER! Use it to refill that dwindling stash of Grey Goose of Kettle One – impress your friends with your trendiness AND make great tasting cocktails (they’ll never know the difference.  In fact since Luksusowa consistently ranks higher than either of those MUCH pricier trendy brands, they may even comment on how this [insert trendy vodka here] is SO worth it because it’s clearly superior. Just smile and nod in agreement.

In other news, my longtime commercial agent, Wendie Adeleman, is retiring today.

The one-in-a-million Wendie Adeleman!

I’m headed over to The Gage Group in a bit to wish her well. She’s a class act, that Wendie. Her blend of no-nonsense, motherly [sometimes tough] love set her apart from others I was working with at the time, and set the bar for what I would demand from other professional relationships. She believed in me when no sane person would. During dry spells, I used to fret over whether she would drop me from her list, mostly because I felt intrinsically unworthy of her faith in me. Age and wisdom were slow adversaries against my ingrained insecurity, but eventually they won out (mostly), and I know now that she simply didn’t work that way. She saw possibilities in me that I am only now growing into. Her faith in me showed me what I could be, and I will always be grateful to her for that.

To Wendie!

So here’s to you Wendie! Enjoy your grandson and you cabin and your freedom, and know that I will always treasure the lessons I learned from you

 

 

 

 

 

Blueberry Lemon Vodka

 

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A thoroughly muddled mess! Give it a couple of days and this becomes summer berry magic!

★★★★★

Prep Time: 5 minutes | Cook Time: 2.5 days | Servings: | Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients:

1 liter crisp, clean (and not trendy and pricey) vodka, like Luksusowa
1 pint fresh or frozen blueberries (fresh is better)
Peeled zest (yellow part only) from 4 lemons
1 vanilla bean

Directions:

In a large jar or other container with a tightly fitting lid, add all ingredients.

Use a muddler to crush the blueberries. (You can crush the blueberries in a separate bowl if your container has too narrow a lid to allow a muddler and your hand in there to do the job!)

Seal the container. Set in a cool place for 2 to 2 ½ days, gently stirring twice a day to mix things up. Taste the vodka at the 1 ½ day mark, and again every 6 hours or so. It will get noticeably sweeter around the 2+ day mark. That’s the point to stop the process, because for some reason, the sweetness from the blueberries can actually begin to reverse the infusing process and the vodka will lose some fruit flavor.

Strain the vodka into a pitcher through a fine mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth. Use a funnel to return the vodka to its original bottle and enjoy.

Drink responsibly, y’all.

Blueberry Cava Cocktail

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★★★★★

Prep Time: 1 min | Cook Time: 1 min | Servings: 1 Serving | Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients:

1 oz Blueberry Lemon Vodka
1 demerara sugar cube (or regular sugar cube, or 1 tsp demerara sugar)
3 dashes orange bitters
A lovely dry Spanish cava, very chilled

Directions:

Place the sugar cube in a flute.

Add the bitters and Blueberry Lemon Vodka.

Top with chilled cava. Garnish with blueberries, lemon twist or fresh mint.

Drink responsibly, y’all.

Blueberry Lemon Martini

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★★★★★

Prep Time: 0 hr 2 min | Cook Time: 0 hr 1 min | Servings: 1 serving | Difficulty: Easy

Ready to shake it until it hurts!

2 oz Blueberry Lemon Vodka
1 ½ tsp superfine sugar
2 tsp gin
½ oz fresh lemon juice (about the amount from ½ of a small lemon)
4 crushed mint leaves

Mint, lemon twist and/or blueberries for garnish.

Directions:

Chill a coupe cocktail glass with ice. Discard the ice.

In a cocktail shaker, add one cup ice cubes and all ingredients.

Shake thoroughly (at least 30 seconds) until the shaker is too cold to hold. Strain cocktail into the chilled coupe glass. Garnish with mint, lemon twist and/or fresh blueberries.

Drink responsibly, y’all.

 

Tomr’s Blueberry Vodka Tonic

2 oz Blueberry Lemon Vodka
1 oz Tomr’s Tonic
3 oz seltzer

Mint, lemon twist and/or blueberries for garnish.

Pour all ingredients into a tall highball glass filled with ice, stir and garnish with fresh mint or lemon twist.

Drink responsibly, y’all.

 Eventually, Tom’s passion for mixology led him to realize that a drink is only as good as its ingredients, and some mixers we take for granted are actually quite inferior. Take tonic, for example. Commercial tonic is made with corn syrup and has a decidedly bitter, one-note quality that tends to dominate the fine gins, tequilas and vodkas that populate every bar’s top shelf nowadays. A fan of gin, he was especially disappointed in the common tonic’s inability to play nice with, let alone enhance, a fine gin like Hendrick’s.

So he took to his basement where he began experimenting, searching for a tonic worth drinking. Sourcing ingredients from around the world, he used only the best: cane sugar, organic herbs and spices, and the bark of the cinchona tree (the original source of quinine).

Having tasted several of his prototypes, I can tell you he was on to something. The gin & tonics served at the Richter/Ragusa (his wife is Michele Ragusa, one of the funniest actresses on the planet, with a voice of an angel!) Thanksgiving feasts rocked my world. Finally, a tonic that enhanced the best qualities of the gin, AND didn’t need three big lime wedges to mask the bitterness. One simple garnish wedge was just perfect to bring a note of brightness to the glass. I was in love!

Flash forward several years (full of hustling, trial and error) and Tomr’s Tonic is now available at your finer cocktail establishments around the country, by mail order and at Whole Foods in NYC and New Jersey. Check it out.