| Booze |

Top 10 Springtime Vodka Infusions

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When it comes to infusions, there is a great debate about which types of liquors best absorb which flavors. We have been experimenting for years with many types of alcohols, fruits, veggies and herbs. What we have discovered is that often it is simply a personal preference not mandated by hard science. Surprise, surprise.

We think vodka is a wonderful springtime liquor. Rum is excellent for Christmas, especially with a bit of cinnamon and vanilla thrown in. Whiskey is always great, but there's nothing like a traditional Manhattan enjoyed in the crisp October air. Tequila makes summertime a never-ending party. The lightness and versatility of vodka makes it easy to infuse, and with all the great produce showing up in our local markets lately, it would be a shame not to explore some ideas. If you've never tried homemade vodka infusions, you will be amazed at how much more fresh and flavorful they are than the readymade varieties. Plus they look pretty cool sitting in a glass infuser on your counter.

To this end, we recommend using a medium- to good-quality vodka with a light taste, such as Tito's. Always use fresh, slightly ripe produce, going local and organic whenever possible. Place the vodka in a large glass container, add your flavoring, and let it sit in a cool, dark place for anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on the depth of flavor you seek. All recipes call for 750 milliliters of vodka per two cups of produce unless otherwise stated.

10. Apricot Apricots are light, delicious and refreshing -- the quintessential springtime fruit, some might argue. Peel the fruit, dice into chunks, and place in vodka, checking every two to three days until the flavor has reached desired intensity. Great mixed with apple juice and Topo Chico Mineral Water.

9. Mango Tropical fruits just make you want to be eating out on a patio, basking in the sun and catching up with friends. Mangos are a juicier fruit, so peel and chunk them, and then start checking after about three days. This is excellent on its own or with orange juice and Sprite.

8. Pineapple Begin by peeling and dicing the fruit. Add to vodka and allow to infuse for about a week. This one is delicious combined with the mango infusion from above or made into a Vodka Press.

7. Strawberry Rhubarb Just like Mama used to make! Strawberries tend to disintegrate easily, so wash them, cut them in half, and remove them from the infusion after a few days or when they start looking soggy. The rhubarb can be left in slightly longer if you enjoy a tangier beverage. This is perfect mixed with cream soda - very strawberry rhubarb pie a la mode.

6. Cherry Berry Cherries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries -- add one or mix them all in. The cherries should be cut in half, but the rest can be added to the vodka whole. Give them one to two weeks and then strain before serving. We suggest mixing it with vanilla simple syrup and Mexican coke.

5. Green Tea Cucumber This is one of our all-time favorites and is amazing year-round, though the lightness is perfect for springtime. Use about six tea bags per 750 milliliters of vodka. Use a good, high-quality tea to cut down on the bitterness. You can cut the bags open and strain later or use an organic staple-less tea bag and just drop it in. The cucumbers (use two) should be sliced but not necessarily peeled. These flavors are subtle, so leave in two weeks to a month, removing the cucumber when it begins to look wilted. Simply add some sparkling water and a squeeze of lime and enjoy.

4. Mixed Pepper Nothing beats Sunday mornings lounging on a sunny patio with a delicious Bloody Mary in your hand. Use three or four of your favorite peppers (bell, jalapeno, Serrano, etc.) per 750 milliliters. Wash and slice them and let them soak up to 24 hours. Stir this spicy drink into your favorite Bloody Mary recipe. You'll thank us for this one, we promise.

3. Peach Ahhh...peaches. How little we get to see them and how much we love them. Add about a cup of diced fresh pieces to your vodka and allow to infuse at least a week. Add to a freshly brewed (and chilled) cup of sweetened black tea and top off with squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

2. Watermelon Watermelon is more a summer fruit, but we still buy it as soon as we see it for sale on the side of the road in some guy's pick-up truck. Watermelon is so juicy and delicious that it seems God intended to infuse vodka with it. Seriously. Add your fruit and in about two days, you will have delicious liquor that needs nothing but a frosted rocks glass filled with crushed ice to pour it in.

1. Lavender Springtime is all about flowers and pastels and Easter. What flavor encompasses all these things better than lavender? Take a half cup dried lavender buds and add it to your vodka. Since the lavender is dried, it might take up to a month to achieve maximum flavor, but feel free to try it daily until it is exactly as strong and flavorful as you like it. Once it's ready, we like to put a jigger of it in a tall glass with equal parts sparkling water, chilled Earl Gray tea, and a dash of honey.

Yes, spring has finally sprung, and it tastes delicious. Salud!

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