Take Your Medicine: Pertsovka
Pertsovka is Russian pepper vodka. Stolichnaya makes a version of Pertsovka (which is my favorite commercially- produced flavored vodka) but it’s also a common homemade infusion in Russia. The drink can be enjoyed recreationally, and is also kept on hand as a homeopathic remedy for colds and fevers. I became enamored of it during my first Russian winter, when its fiery flavor brought a welcome warmth to my chilled limbs. Since it tastes best ice-cold, it is also surprisingly refreshing on muggy summer days. My favorite way to drink it is straight up, but it would likely provide a unique twist in a bloody mary or screwdriver, and there are many cocktails designed specifically for pertsovka. I can’t vouch for any of them because, as mentioned, I always prefer to drink it straight. This recipe resulted from intense discussion with some Russian friends, all of whom have similar, but slightly different, ways of making homemade pertsovka.
The major alternatives seem to be whether to use fresh chile peppers or dried, and whether or not to include garlic. For this batch, I wanted to use my just-ripened Super Chile peppers, so I opted for fresh. While I understand the compelling “medicinal” argument for including garlic, I decided to keep this batch simple, so I pared down the ingredients to a triumvirate of spicy heat: red pepper, black pepper, and ginger root. I was not disappointed with the result. The fresh chile peppers not only added a lot of heat, they seemed to add an element of brightness — almost a fruitiness — to the final infusion, contrasting nicely with the sharp bite of the black peppercorns. The ginger rounded out the layers of spiciness, without asserting itself in an identifiable way.
2 red chile peppers, sliced
25 black peppercorns, slightly crushed
1 1/2″ knob of ginger root, peeled and sliced
750 mL triple-distilled vodka
Combine the ingredients in a glass jar and seal tightly. Put in a cool, dark place and shake daily for a few days, until the flavor is at the desired strength. Strain through cheesecloth and bottle. Tastes best stored in the freezer.