Vodka Tasting Party with Strawberry-Basil Lemonade
The Midwestern Gentleman and I held an impromptu, inaugural gathering in our new backyard last weekend. A couple of friends came over to sample my small stock of infused vodkas and enjoy some nibblies out on the patio.
Just a few shots were left of last winter’s fig vodka, but it was still tasty — a Fig Newton in liquid form, with the rich sweetness of the dried fruit mellowing the alcohol’s burn. We also tasted pertsovka (the almost-unanimous favorite), intense and velvety coffee vodka, and the recently-infused mango and basil vodkas. Not surprisingly, the coffee-addicted Midwestern Gentleman’s favorite was the potent coffee vodka.
The mango vodka turned out more piney than I had anticipated. Our Biology Teacher friend explained that the chemical compounds which impart that piney flavor may be more soluble in alcohol than the sweeter, fruitier compounds. I’m going to have to brush up on my chemistry before starting the next batch of infusions! I really liked the basil vodka for its aggressively fresh, herbal aroma, but the basil flavor did nothing to tone down the burn of the alcohol, making this infusion more ideal for mixing than enjoying on the rocks or as a shot.
Since not everyone enjoys vodka straight, infused or otherwise, I whipped up a batch of strawberry-basil lemonade, too. This may be the perfect summer cocktail — bright and fruity without being sticky-sweet. My twist on this popular cocktail is to use basil-infused vodka for an extra dimension of flavor. I use straight sugar instead of a simple syrup because, frankly, I’m lazy, and I can never remember to make the syrup far enough ahead of time to cool it down. Adding the sugar to the undiluted fruit juices lets the fruit acids do most of the work. The sugar will dissolve surprisingly quickly.
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6 medium lemons)
7 or 8 fresh strawberries
about 5 or 6 fresh basil leaves
2 cups cold water
1/3 – 1/2 cup raw sugar (to taste)
Squeeze the lemons and add about 1 cup of juice to a pitcher or carafe. Hull the strawberries, slice them in half, and add them to the pitcher of lemon juice. Wash the basil leaves and add them to the pitcher. Using an immersion blender, whiz up the mixture until frothy and smooth. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, you could do this in a regular blender, too). Add the sugar and stir briskly until dissolved. The undiluted fruit juice acids will dissolve the sugar fairly quickly. Add the 2 cups of cold water, about 3/4 cup basil-infused vodka (more or less, depending on the desired strength), and stir well. Serve over ice garnished with a strawberry and basil leaves.