Infusion profusion: Steeping releases herb, fruit flavors into vodka Step away from that bottle of cherry vodka. The makers of a local craft vodka say they have a fresher alternative. At Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka — produced at Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries in Shaler — partners Barry Young and Prentiss Orr make it from scratch using potatoes grown only a few counties away. Their vodka’s unadulterated character, they say, makes it ideal for infusion — the process of steeping fresh herbs or fruits in spirits that absorb their flavor. The practice takes the farm-to-table approach from the kitchen to the bar. Instead of adding sugary syrups, many restaurants now “cook” their cocktails by infusing them with fresh sprigs of basil, lemon peels or even cooked bacon.
Cheers to America’s best cocktail bars The good: bartenders are making some amazing drinks these days. A whole new crop of handcrafted spirits are expanding the palette they paint with, and many craft bartenders are making their own syrups, infusions and bitters, all of which add an unexpected depth and complexity to familiar drinks. To order a Repeal cocktail made with vanilla cardamom bitters at Green Russell in Denver is to step through a door you didn’t know existed. The bad: some cocktail lounges and their bartenders seem a bit too pleased with themselves. Big mustaches and sleeve garters and 12 ingredients in a drink do not an excellent bar make. And woe to those who unwittingly order a Cosmopolitan here. Can’t we all just get a drink?
A Drinking Master’s Drink: The Martini “It’s a grown-up drink. Not one for amateurs,” says Gavin Fitzgibbon, a barman who has been serving sharp-suited ad executives and bored Park Avenue matrons at the King Cole Bar in the St Regis Hotel for 16 years. He’s two parts affability to one part formality, with a dash of wit. “A martini is something to which one graduates, and then loves for ever,” he says. I could certainly contemplate life-long devotion to the drink he’s put in front of me—a generous measure of ice-rinsed Tanqueray gin, with a dab of vermouth and a shard of zesty lemon peel that kick-starts my olfactory system before I even take a sip. It’s deliciously cold and instantly warming. The martinis here, Fitzgibbon says, are served “bone dry, unless we’re told otherwise”. The dryness he’s referring to increases when the proportion of vermouth to gin (or vodka, if, like James Bond, you insist) is reduced—some mixologists merely spritz the glass with a vermouth mist. Winston Churchill, who liked his martinis as dry as dust, said the way to get it right was to look at the vermouth bottle while pouring the gin.