Please, I beg of you, hear me out: flavored vodka gets a bad rap. Vodka, in general, has long been the subject of derision amongst a certain subset of so-called sophisticated 21st century drinkers, for whom flavored vodka is even more of an eye roll supreme.
As with many nodes of contemporary snobbery—like punching down on natural processed coffees, or hating Guy Fieri—it’s tired and should change. Good, thoughtfully made flavored vodka can be absolutely delicious, and if you’ve cast this stuff out of your repertoire as the exclusive domain of college frat bars and Flirtini cosmos, it’s really time to reconsider.
I was not always this enlightened; what changed me was having the opportunity to try and be exposed to flavored vodka’s culinary possibilities by way of a restaurant here in Portland, Oregon called Kachka, a municipal gem focused on the culinary traditions of Russia and Eastern Europe through the lens of the Ashkenazi Jewish diaspora. This happens to be exactly my family’s cultural history, which makes me an easy mark for loving Kachka, but I’m not alone—this restaurant is busy every night, and Bonnie Frumkin Morales’ Kachka cookbook (with Flatiron Press) is one of the best-selling Portland cookbooks of the last decade.
At Kachka, the bar program is focused on vodka in a big way, with dozens of vodkas from around the world on offer and bespoke tasting flights suggested for in-depth discovery. But it is Kachka’s flavored vodkas that truly represent a revelation: they are expressive, moreish, and profoundly culinary, expressing traditional Eastern European flavors like bison grass, horseradish, tarragon, and caraway, alongside Pacific Northwest seasonal expressions like Chester Blackberry and Mt. Hood Strawberry.
This good flavored vodka blew my mind, but—where’s the coffee? Over at the liquor store, there are plenty of coffee vodka options, but we felt inspired to work on something a little more bespoke and homemade in the style of these flavored vodkas we love from Kachka, and have developed a tried and true home coffee vodka technique with roughly one million potential applications for the finished product, not least of which is an ice-cold shot straight from the freezer at the start of brunch.
Homemade Coffee Vodka
1 375 ml bottle of Monopolowa vodka
20 grams of roasted whole bean coffee
10 grams of Okinawa black sugar
1 transfer vessel—a pitcher or bowl and funnel.
*A note on vodka — There exists a broad spectrum of vodka expressions and prices, from special edition offerings from Poland and Russia that retail well above $100 to bottom-shelf plastic bottle affairs. For our purposes, Monopolowa of Poland does nicely; I’m drawn to imported Vodka, perhaps by lineage, but if there’s a nice local distillery you enjoy, their vodka will do just fine.
*A note on coffee — After several batches attempted, it’s clear that your finished vodka will take on ever-so-slightly the unique characteristics of the coffee you choose to infuse it with. Maybe use your favorite everyday drinking blend; maybe use a rare Gesha or Wush-Wush or what-have-you. The choice is yours.
*A note on sugar — Speaking molecularly for a moment, sugar greatly helps the botanical infusion process when making coffee vodka, and it also results in an agreeably off-dry final product. Just trust me on this one; without sugar, coffee’s oils and esters wind up clashing with the vodka, with an end result that tastes like someone spilled a diner mug into a bottle of nail polish remover. Please also trust me on the Okinawa black sugar, which has a salted caramel flavor profile and helps give your infusion a fine bit of backbone.
- First, start by pouring out your little bottle of vodka into your transfer vessel. There it will rest awaiting further instruction.
- Now add your roasted coffee beans, which aren’t beans at all, of course; they are the roasted drupes of a flowering cherry shrub, but I digress. Add your Okinawa black sugar directly over top.
- It’s time to refill the bottle, carefully so as to not spill, using your transfer vessel. Adding coffee and sugar into the bottle means it’ll hold less total liquid. Fill it up nearly to the top, then do what you wish with the shot or so of remaining vodka—a splash into tonight’s pasta sauce, perhaps, or straight down the hatch if that’s your wish.
- Place the bottle in your liquor cabinet, beans and all, and set a timer on your phone for 72 hours. When that timer goes off in three long days, it’ll be time for the final step.
- Congratulations, you’ve got infused vodka! But now you need to get the vodka off the beans—an overlong bout of fraternization can result in bitterness and discord, as with certain people I know. Simple pour your infused vodka out of the 375 ml bottle and back into your transfer vessel. It’s easy enough to do this without the beans spilling out, but if one or two sneaks by, simply scoop them from the transfer vessel using a slotted spoon. Give your 375 ml bottle a good rinse in the sink, and pour the remaining coffee beans into the compost bin, as they’ve done their duty. Once clean and clear, transfer the vodka back into your original bottle, give it a good wipe for any excess liquid, and toss that sucker into the side bin of your freezer for future employment.
It should hardly have to be said that the homemade, complex, expressive coffee vodka you’ve got chilling away in your freezer is primed for all manner of implementation. Coffee vodka slots in readily to any Espresso Martini or White Russian riff you might be contemplating (and we’re contemplating a few), but it also sidles up surprisingly well next to the lime and ginger in a Moscow Mule (this is a Kicking Mule, perhaps), or as part of your build in an earthy drinking-for-breakfast style Bloody Mary. My favorite way to drink it is as a soda highball, with stacked rocks and Topo Chico, but it’s similarly excellent with tonic, especially if you’re a lover of a good espresso and tonic at the coffee bar.
Drinking Coffee is a new feature series on Sprudge. Explore more unique drinks on Sprudge.