Aquavit, the Midtown Manhattan Swedish restaurant that launched chef Marcus Samuelsson’s celebrity status, has long had a great list of spirit infusions. On the menu, they’re called aquavits, but this isn’t technically true by the definition of aquavit most of us go by: a neutral spirit infused (and perhaps redistilled) with herbs, including caraway and dill. Two of my favorite infusions happened to show up in a do-it-yourself aquavit article in the Wall Street Journal in April of last year. The first is a simple horseradish infused vodka and the second is vodka infused first with cardamom pods and then re-infused with dried black mission figs.
The recipes come from Aquavit’s beverage director, Keri Levens; she’d been on the job since mid-2011, so she didn’t come up with these recipes, but she has worked to expand the restaurant’s infusions menu.
I’ve made the horseradish infusion at home a few times. It’s really easy, and if you like horseradish, really rewarding. I actually like it so much, I sip it. It’s not just the bracing, clean heat of it — it’s also the earthiness of it that comes through in the infusion. There’s nothing quite like it.
Levens suggests using a potato vodka for the infusion. Its viscosity may pick up flavors better. Her instructions:
Peel, wash and coarsely chop a horseradish root. Combine ¼ cup chopped horseradish with 750 ml potato vodka. Leave to infuse for one to two weeks. Strain and store.
I don’t do it that. I’ve found that if you grate the horseradish with a microplane grater, the infusion picks up in minutes, not days. I’ve infused for as little as ten minutes with good results.
This time, I started with about one cup of loosely grated horseradish. I put it in two unbleached tea bags like these. I used a liter-sized mason jar and added about 500ml of Tito’s vodka. It became cloudy almost immediately. Any home infusion that doesn’t involve some seriously heavy duty filtration is going to be a little cloudy. This doesn’t bother me. After about an hour infusing, I stirred the vodka and took a sample with a bar spoon. It’s excellent, but I’m going to leave it a bit longer before I squeeze the tea bags out and pour it back into the vodka bottle.
Horseradish vodka isn’t unique to Aquavit of course. For instance, Moscow on the Hill, a Russian restaurant in St. Paul, Minn., has been serving it for years. They commissioned 45th Parallel Spirits (which also distiller Gamle Ode Aquavit) to make and bottle their recipe under the Referent brand. It’s available in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and maybe a couple other states.