Yesterday, The Ferrett's review of our vodka infusions began with an introduction of his fellow tasters, an evaluation of our baseline vodka in its filtered and non-filtered forms, and a tasting of our Mad Scientician™ Caramel vodka, our first successfully completed experiment. Today, we will move on into some of the other flavors.
If you missed Part One of this review, read it here.
"It's Starbucks coffee," Karla said confidently upon whiffing the bottle. "Because they burn their beans."
Lo, a bit of Googling on the Infusions blog proves her correct. This is Starbucks, bitter and almost acrid; indeed, the smell out of the bottle is pure coffee that pours into the nose, the harsh scent of nearly ashen grounds that you get with a slightly aggressive bean roaster. There is absolutely no hint of vodkaish goodness at the bottom of the smell, and we sniff deeply, trying to get a taste of it.
It's a light brown. We hold up our cups and swig it, and...
"Well, that was hideous," Jen says, screwing up her face.
Gini agrees. "It's like licking an old coffee filter. Just all back-end, no front end."
"All the aftertaste with none of the good taste up front to balance it. Oh, the humanity!" Karla cries.
They are, sadly, correct. It may well be that Starbucks is the wrong flavor of coffee to try it with (and the Infusion lads, not being coffee drinkers**, may be at a loss here), but what we got here was an almost absurdly bitter vodka. It might well be good mixed with something else to take the edge off, but as it is it's harsh and sticks to the roof of your mouth in unwanted ways.
Gini, on the other hand, is undeterred. She's pretty sure she can make this interesting, because she wants to mix the coffee with the caramel to come up with an iced latte. She does, and we taste...
...But it is undeniably harsh. It's like all the flavor of Kahlua without any of the milky goodness.
We all agree that this could go in something quite good, but that's the problem with tasting raw vodkae like this; generally, vodka's a mixer, and the Infusionites are smart enough to realize it. They follow up their taste tests with some sort of cocktail utilizing their latest creation, but we? We're on a deadline. We don't have time to experiment, and the raw materials (at least the ones thus far) aren't as satisfying.
(Stay with us, though. Though it starts slow, there are a few solid knock-outs to come.)
"Godiva and a little cream?" Karla shrugs. "I could do this. But raw?"
Disappointment. Nothing but disappointment.
"This one smells promising," Karla says. And lo, the strawberry vodka smells exactly like the strawberry flavoring that was in my Mother's kitchen cabinet in tiny glass bottles. It was supposed to be used to augment Jell-O, I think, but instead I used it to make "perfume" for my Mom in vast buckets.
The strawberry flavor is interesting; it hasn't overpowered the vodka so much as joined up with it in a strange hybrid of burn and fruit flavoring. The vague, almost non-taste of vodka combines with a whisper-light trace of berry, so what you're left with is the alcohol burn doing a quick tango with a very light, almost ephemeral strawberry flavor that's all the more intense because it's stark against the clear flavor of the vodka.
In water, this would be lost - but you can feel the faint vodka and the faint strawberry struggling like the two black-and-white guys rolling in the tunnel at the end of Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, except that it's all taking place right on the back of your tongue.
"I could drink this," Karla says. "This is the base for a good porch drink." Jen and Gini agree.
It's odd. I don't like it that much, but then again I'm not a fan of the strawberry to begin with. But this drink seems predestined to conjoin with some other drink to balance it out and come out with something wonderful, because even though it's not to my taste even my loutish tastebuds can fathom that this is half a drink.
It's light. And fruity. Something fizzy to give it some depth might work, or perhaps a cream to offset it, but it's definitely got potential. It's not quite good enough for a sippin' on its own, but like Voltron it's just waiting for another part.
"You can smell a lot more vodka this time around," says Jen, and it's weird. This is golden-yellow and glistening, yet it has the strong acrid scent of the unfiltered vodka. We sniff deeply, hunting for vanilla - which is Gini's favorite scent - and yet there's scarcely any to be found.
The vanilla seems to have reacted with the vodka in an odd way, goading the vodka scent like a boy poking a dog with a sharp stick, making it aggressive and mean just before it vanishes into nowhere. There is nothing but pure alcohol drifting through our nostrils.
Karla leans back warily. "I'm not excited about this one at all," she says. And I myself am tempted to walk away from this one.
I pour it slowly into my mouth. And it tastes just like a chemical plant threw up on my tongue. It's sour and ugly.
I look up, gagging, only to find that Jen, Karla, and Gini are all nodding appreciatively. What the hell is wrong with them? I think, but I can't talk because this taste is so foul.
"This is good," they say. "Real good."
I wonder what they're tasting, but that's the delight of food; one man's meat is another man's poison, and they're tasting filet mignon while I myself am scarfing down turpentine. For me, the vanilla brings out the vodka taste really severely for me - I really only get a full breath of vanilla on the outbreath, when I feel myself exhaling pure vanilla out as the vodka disappears down my throat.
Everyone else, on the other hand, disagrees. They think the vanilla has blended quite nicely, creating a delicate blend that could pay off magnificently with just a bit of work.
Gini thinks that you could easily put it in Coke and come up with an alcoholic vanilla Coke. Karla pronounces it "Eminently drinkable."
"This one has real potential," Gini says.
I eat some pita bread to cleanse my palate. The next has to be better.
The scent of this one is both easily placed and heartwarmingly familiar:
Orange Tang. Ice pops from the summer. Bug Juice.
It is, as Jen notes, "Orange flavor, not orange." It's a distinctly manufactured odor, even as we all smile as the tang of it fills our noses. It's got an artificial citrus tang, which is odd because this is actual orange juice in the vodka, but for some reason it smells fake. But that's good, because "fake orange juice" is a staple of every American child's diet, and we're willing to go with this.
Drinking it is odd, because it's as if you left a screwdriver out on the porch for weeks in sunlight and it somehow faded. Not watered-down, which would be awful, but just dimmed across all levels of the palate - as if someone had turned the volume down. As it turns out, the orange beats the harshness of the vodka down into submission and then loses something of itself in the process, generating up with an oddly muted, yet pleasant, drink.
This has some of the complexity of the strawberry, but orange is less complex than strawberry so it's not quite as fulfilling. On the other hand, it's more familiar, given the obvious pairings of oranges and vodka.
"It's the drink of astronauts," Jen says.
"Put some Sprite in that," Karla commands. "Or Ginger Ale. It'd be a good drink to drink at Blossom, the local outdoors summer music festival, bubbly and clear..."
I imagine us sitting underneath the cool summer sky, stars above as the Blossom fireworks go off, drinking a tall glass of infused orange vodka and 7-Up, and it is indeed a pleasant image.
We could go with this. But the best is yet to come.
To be concluded tomorrow!
** Mad Scienticians' note: Whaddya mean, we're not coffee drinkers? No science is getting done in this lab in the morning without a good 16 oz. of joe. In fact, we tend to rate caffeine even above ethyl alcohol in our triumvirate of favorite chemicals, capsaicin rounding it out at #3.
That said, I must agree with the Ferrett -- the coffee vodka, when taken straight, is our worst-tasting experiment yet. However, this is exactly why our true litmus test is not a shot, but a cocktail -- and the coffee is an ingredient in one of our favorites, Saturday Morning Coffee. Irish cream compliments the coffee vodka perfectly, while abating its bitterness. Still, it is quite likely that the dark-roast coffee beans we used were not ideal; that was simply what we had on hand. We will probably try this experiment again in the future, using different beans, and will release our results when that time comes.