Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Scienticians have died in a horrible Everclear explosion (also, lemon-lime results)

While attending Shore Leave, the Mad Scienticians bunked with the Vodka God. Naturally, the room was well stocked with various and sundry alcohols for the weekend, as we brought several of our vodka infusions, and Arthur made his world famous punch (the formula which inspired us to dabble in punchmaking ourselves). Unfortunately, such a high level of concentrated alconomics led to disaster, as our "bar" table reached critical mass and exploded. The Vodka God, being immortal, survived. Wayland and I once spent a few years as gods as well, but we have since retired; therefore, we were both killed painfully. This is why we haven't posted anything in two weeks.

It took us some time to determine how to access the internet from beyond the veil, but our persistence paid off. We finally acquired an authentic TopatoCo Steampunk Internet Ouija Board which is allowing our spirits to finally post. So, without further ado, we present the results of our Lemon-Lime Vodka experiment.

After six days of infusion, the vodka had attained a slightly green tinge, though not quite as much as our original lime vodka. Recall that our intent for this experiment was to create a light and sweet vodka reminiscent of Sprite or 7-Up. As such, we used the full zest of a lemon and a lime, but only two slices of each fruit. We also added two spoonfuls of sugar to sweeten it, with the intention to add more later if necessary.

Using all of our strength, we were able to exert enough of a physical existence to pour two shots of vodka and drink them.

If a spirit drinks a spirit, does that make him a cannibal?

Using human blood on a mirror, I wrote that "due to the Shore Leave festivities (and our untimely deaths), we let this infusion run too long by at least a day, possibly two. The sourness of the fruits have overpowered the vodka, even though we used less of it. Perhaps if we strain it now and add more sugar to sweeten it more, it will be good."

Wayland's thoughts were hauntingly similar. "Too sour! Other than the overwhelming sourness, this is actually pretty smooth. The flavors are about right. If we could do something about the sour, we would be golden."

It is a little-known scientific fact that ectoplasm is mostly caramelized sucrose, so it was an easy task to add additional sugar to the vodka. We added the equivalent of two spoonfuls of sugar and tried it again. Unfortunately, it was not sufficient to salvage the experiment. The sourness remained, and Wayland commented that it may even be worse. (This is in line with what we learned in the Big Experiment, that sugar can intensify an infusion's natural flavors, making a good infusion great and a bad infusion worse.)

We will keep this vodka on hand for further experimentation, but ultimately, we are probably going to have to try this one again from scratch. Perhaps it would work better with zest only, and no "meat" of the fruit.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Un-Vodka (with Orlando Jones as the Infusions Guy)

With the Big Experiment now behind us, we have solid proof of the difference a dash of sugar can make in certain vodka infusions, particularly those involving fruit. However, we generally do not use enough sugar to really sweeten the drink, just enough to help along the infusion of the main ingredient. This week, we're trying something a little different.

A few months ago, we created a lime-infused vodka which met a mixed reception. Though the lime flavor was tasty, the vodka was quite sour. We felt that it needed to be mixed with something sweet to counteract the sourness, but every cocktail we attempted to use it in failed to meet the task.

This week, we're going to try to work around the shortcomings of that experiment and attempt a tried-and-true flavor combination: lemon-lime. We are hoping to reduce the sourness and increase the sweetness, to create something that resembles Sprite or 7-Up in flavor. If successful, perhaps this would be good with a bit of soda water, to add carbonation? We shall see.

In this experiment, we are using the zest of one lime and one lemon, and two thin slices of each. We are only using two slices of each in the hope that they will impart the flavor of their juices without making it overly sour. (Recall that the previous lime infusion used two entire limes.) In addition, we are adding enough sugar to sweeten the vodka.

We began by zesting the fruits, using our cheese grater as we learned to do during our last lime experiment.

The lime yielded slightly less zest than the lemon, due to its thinner skin and smaller size.

Once we had carefully scooped the zest into a science jar, I cut two thin slices from the midsection of each fruit.

Here is the product as it appeared once the infusion was underway. Interestingly, the lime slices sank to the bottom, while the lemon slices floated.

Once the fruit ingredients were added to the vodka, we added two spoonfuls of sugar. We suspect it will need more sugar than that to get the effect we're looking for, but we can always add more later. We will check the progress of this experiment after about five days, and decide whether to add more sugar, and how much.

Since we've been thinking about lemons and limes, I have also decided to try my hand at some homemade lemonade. Though I primarily made it as an alternative to drinking soda at home (an odd motivation when we're making a soda-inspired infusion), it may also mix well with this vodka, or perhaps our orange vodka.

When researching how to make authentic lemonade, I came across this recipe, which suggests beginning with simple syrup (rather than simply mixing water, sugar and lemon juice). I picked up a lemon squeezing apparatus and a bunch of lemons, and the first batch turned out pretty good.

Sadly, this cheap piece of crap broke on the third lemon, and I had to squeeze the rest by hand (which I think actually yielded more juice than the squeezer). I hope Wayland enjoyed playing with it while he had the chance.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More results: black tea and lemon vodka

Last week's infusion experiment, black tea and lemon vodka, infused for about a day. Due to time constraints, we bottled the infusion taste untested, and waited until the next day before conducting a true test. The loose tea cold-steeped the vodka to a dark brown color, as we expected. Before bottling, the infusion looked like this:

We strained the tea leaves and lemon zest out of the vodka through cheesecloth while bottling it.

It should be noted that neither of the Mad Scienticians are avid tea drinkers. We generally only drink it when we are sick, or when a rare mood strikes us. Therefore, we are not qualified to review the quality of the tea flavor in its own right.

This testing occurred on the same night as the Big Experiment testing, so as you might tell, we were slightly buzzed by this point. However, we do not believe it was enough to adversely affect our analysis.

I felt that the vodka had "a strong tea flavor all the way through, though it still has a significant vodka flavor component, and a bit of a burn on the back end. The lemon flavor is barely noticeable in its own right, but it is present as a part of the tea flavor, which is as it should be. It's not something I would drink often on its own, but I bet it would taste great with our honey vodka."

Wayland's thoughts ran along similar lines. "This reminds me of being sick, though not in a bad way. Generally, when I'm sick, I turn to tea. The problem is, I usually add copious amounts of sugar or honey to my tea. I feel like this vodka needs a sweetness that isn't there. There is a mild vodka burn to this, but it is hardly noticeable. Other than the lack of sweetness, this is excellent."

Subsequently, we decided to put our mutual theory to the test, by combining this with honey vodka.

Black Tea/Honey Shot

Shake with ice and pour into a shot glass:
½ oz. Mad Scientician™ Black Tea and Lemon vodka
½ oz. Mad Scientician™ Honey vodka

This is exactly what we felt was missing when we tasted the black tea. The sweetness supplements the taste of the tea vodka, and cancels out its back-end burn. Wayland felt that it could use a higher tea ratio, possibly two-thirds tea to one-third honey; I thought it was fine as it is, though the higher ratio may be preferred by tea lovers.

Brendan's score: 3.5 flasks out of 5
Wayland's score: 3.5 flasks out of 5
Overall score:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Results of the Big Experiment (finally!)

Sorry about the delay in posting these results; we know many of you have been waiting with bated breath! It's been a very long week for the Mad Scienticians, for a number of reasons. Not the least of these reasons is our preparations for Shore Leave. That's right, the Scienticians are making the trek up to Baltimore this weekend to geek out, so if you're in the area, come look for us! We'll be bringing several of our infusions to share with friends, fans and complete strangers.

To review, the Big Experiment with which we celebrated six months of Infusions of Grandeur involved four separate apple vodka infusions, each using a slightly different methodology. All four infusions were run for two weeks. Below, you can see the finished infusions, labeled with the corresponding methodology.

A. Apple replaced every three days, with a spoonful of sugar at the beginning.
B. Apple replaced every three days, without sugar.
C. Same apple for two weeks, with a spoonful of sugar.
D. Same apple for two weeks, without sugar.

Take note that method C is the same method we used in our original experiment, six months prior.

To ensure a true double-blind test, we discarded the apple wedges from each infusion, and stored the meanings of the letter labels elsewhere. We then gave the infusions to our laboratory assistant Amy, who could not identify the infusions. She served us samples in random order, taking note of the order for later identification.

Our reviews are listed here in the order we sampled them, not in the order they appear above.

Infusion One: Same apple for two weeks, without sugar. (Jar D)

Wayland described this vodka as "alright. I don't think this is as good as the original. It has two stages: apple followed by vodka. The back end is very vodka-tasting, while the front end is sweet and appley."

My reaction: "This shot is mildly harsh, but it's not prohibitive. It has a sweetness that supports the flavor, which is strong on the front end. The flavor doesn't scream apple, but it's appley enough."

Notice that both of us described a sweetness to this vodka, though no sugar was added. Interesting!

Infusion Two: Apple replaced every three days, with a spoonful of sugar at the beginning. (Jar A)

After tasting this infusion, I wrote that "the flavor is brief, with no vodka taste. It tastes very much of apples, with a strong sweetness, but it also has a slightly sour/bitter component that makes this vodka slightly unpleasant. It's not the gut reaction I got from our debut batch, but I wouldn't drink this recreationally."

Wayland's thoughts were much more favorable. "I like that a lot. It's apples. If I didn't know this was vodka, I would think I was drinking apple juice. This could actually be pretty dangerous. I can see drinking this straight from the bottle until your body realized you had drank entirely too much."

Infusion Three: Apple replaced every three days, without sugar. (Jar B)

The results of this infusion, compared with the previous one, show pretty thoroughly how sugar can affect an infusion.

Wayland described this one as "very smooth, like the last one, with no vodka burn. It did have a hint of sourness to it that the last one didn't have. Analyzing it, I think I liked the previous one better, although this one might have a more 'authentic' apple flavor to it. I think that brief snippet of sourness detracts from the drink as a whole."

I wrote that "this one tastes much like the previous vodka, but less so. Less sweet, less appley, but also less sour and bitter. Unfortunately, the former flavors have been reduced enough that the latter are still dominant. Thoroughly underwhelming."

Infusion Four: Same apple for two weeks, with a spoonful of sugar. (Jar C)

Again, this infusion uses the same methodology as our debut batch of apple vodka.

I still didn't like it. "Oof. This sucks. I'm pretty sure this is the original version. It has little apple flavor, and is quite sour. It has a vodka burn, but no vodka taste."

I challenge anyone who says that the phrase "Oof, this sucks" has no place in a respectable scientific article to taste this vodka under controlled circumstances and say it again.

After trying the alternatives, Wayland seemed to finally be swayed to my point of view on this vodka. "Wow! This has the tartness of the last vodka plus the burn of the first. By far the worst of the batch. It's like you took a drop of apple juice and a splash of sour mix, and added them to several ounces of vodka. Definitely not the method to use."

With the results in, we rated the vodkae as follows, with 1 being our favorite:

A. Replace apples, with sugar:21
B. Replace apples, no sugar:32
C. Same apples, with sugar:44
D. Same apples, no sugar:13

This resulted in a heated debate between the two Mad Scienticians about which would be hailed as the winning method. We argued not only about which one was best, but about the fundamental tastes of the vodkae. Eventually, I was convinced to do a repeat test of methods A and D, mainly because I found it hard to believe that my favorite of the four had included the same apples for two weeks.

I poured myself a small sample of batches A and D. There was no scientific control involved in this retest; I knew exactly what I was drinking. Upon tasting these vodkae for the second time, I decided that my initial reviews of each had somehow been flawed. In fact, I was amused by the realization that if I reviewed them again, I would have given the same reviews in the reverse order. (No, I did not switch the shots; I was quite careful about that, and only slightly buzzed.)

The revised rating table is as follows:

A. Replace apples, with sugar:11
B. Replace apples, no sugar:32
C. Same apples, with sugar:44
D. Same apples, no sugar:23

The winning methodology is to replace the apples every three days throughout the infusion, and to add a spoonful of sugar at the beginning.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Black tea and lemon vodka

Unfortunately, we did not have time to bring the Big Experiment to a close last night, so we will not be posting the results until later this week. However, in the meantime, we have a brand new infusion experiment, straight out of the reader suggestion files (thanks Jonathan): black tea and lemon vodka.

For this experiment, we are using the zest of one lemon, and six bags of Lipton Black Pearl tea. Of course, we remained cautious throughout this experiment, in hopes of avoiding the Curse of the Black Pearl.

We began the experiment by zesting a lemon with our patent pending citrus zester, developed right here in the Infusions of Grandeur laboratory.

We dropped the lemon zest into a science jar and grabbed the box of tea bags. As we opened the box, we noticed what was written on the back of the box. It was as if this tea was intended just for us.

Of course, it wasn't meant for us. The process that makes vodka infusions is, of course, essentially the same as the process that makes standard tea. Like water, if we boiled the vodka first, the infusion would occur very quickly, though much of the alcohol would evaporate in the process.

Despite Lipton's fancy-shaped tea bags, we decided that there was no point in using the bags themselves, since we would have to filter out the lemon zest anyway. We cut open six tea bags and dropped the loose leaves into the science jar.

Once this was done, we poured in the vodka and put the jar into a cupboard. This experiment should only take a day, so we might test it and the Big Experiment at the same time.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Conclusions of honey and ginger vodkae

Our most recent vodka sampling session showed the success of two of our ongoing infusion experiments. You might even say that we declared our independence from ongoing infusions, because other than the Big Experiment, there is nothing else running (until we begin this week's experiment). We're not going to know what to do with ourselves, not having three or four vodkae to sample each week.... fortunately, the four-way apple comparison will easily make up for it.

We were in a hurry to sample the honey vodka, so we tasted it first. It could have possibly been "complete" almost immediately after the experiment, since very little separation occurred after the initial shaking. We gave it a final shake just to be sure, poured two shots and sipped them gently.

I felt that the vodka "was very sweet, with no burn at all. There is a nanosecond of vodka taste on the back end, but it vanishes almost before it registers. This might be better than Bärenjäger. It probably would have worked with a bit less honey, but I like it fine as it is."

Wayland made similar observations, writing that it was "very sweet, very smooth. Possibly a little sweeter than Bärenjäger. It tastes just like honey, albeit watered down. There's really no hint of vodka to this. It could be dangerous."

It should be noted that by using the amount of honey that we did (12 ounces mixed with 750 mL of vodka), we reduced the alcohol content of the vodka significantly. A fifth of vodka is about 25.36 ounces, so some quick calculation reveals that our formerly 80 proof vodka has been watered down to a mere 54.3 proof, or about 27% alcohol. (In comparison, Bärenjäger is 35% alcohol.) Depending on your goals, this could be a good or bad result; in this state, the honey vodka will make an excellent mixer or cordial. However, if you prefer a little more potency, we believe that this would still taste wonderful with a somewhat reduced honey content.

In fact, the amount of honey led to another effect that we should have forseen: the process yielded well over a fifth of honey vodka, and it wouldn't all fit in the bottle, even after sampling two shots (and spilling some onto the science counter when the bottle got full). Fortunately, we had an extra 5 ounce sample bottle to store the remainder. Now, what shall we do with it?

The success of the honey vodka had us in high spirits (no pun intended) as we moved on to sample the ginger vodka for the third time. There was no significant change in its appearance from the previous sampling. At this point, the infusion had been running for 31 days.

Wayland took the first sample, and wrote, "Now that brings back childhood memories of Pepperidge Farm gingerbread cookies, although this is less sweet. It is incredibly smooth. There's no hint of vodka burn at all."

Let's ignore the disturbing fact that Wayland's childhood memories can be inspired by hard liquor and move on.

I noted that "the spice, after toning down before the previous tasting, seems to have surpassed its original bite, and the flavor has intensified with it. It's reached a good balance that takes you pleasantly by surprise. The back end has a vodka flavor component, not as brief as with the honey vodka, but light enough that it blends with the ginger taste and bite and becomes a part of it."

Both vodkae were bottled, leaving only the Big Experiment, which we intend to bring to a close in the next 24 hours. With luck, we will have time to post our results tomorrow during the holiday. For all you Americans out there, we at the Infusions lab hope you enjoy your Independence Day (and we forgive you if you relax with a brew, rather than a martini - I plan to have one or two myself). For the rest of you, have a great Wednesday.