The Russian spirit takes on new and innovative flavors

IF AN OLIVE IN YOUR vodka martini is the closest you come to linking food and cocktails, it might be time to pick up the bar list at your favorite haunt and take a look at the future. You might still find an olive there, but it’s likely been steeped in rosemary oil and rubbed with fleur de sel before it ends up on a swizzle stick.

Across the global nightclub scene, spirits are being infused with the use of ingredients more likely to be found in the kitchen pantry. Figs, lavender, lemongrass, caraway and even bacon are serving as infusions for white spirits.

At thirtynine hotel in Honolulu, erudite tender-of-bar Kyle Reutner welcomes the trend.

“What’s cool about infusing drinks is that literally any spirit can be infused,” he says.

Every Thursday night, Reutner creates six new cocktails, many of them infused with exotic ingredients that are on the menu for just four hours. They include agave with ginger and lemongrass, rum with tea, or tequila with strawberries.

Head north of Honolulu and you’ll also find cutting edge cocktails in the country. At 21 Degrees North, Turtle Bay’s signature restaurant, Allison Bellows tends her bar with the enthusiasm of a chef. Her mise en place contains an assortment of locally grown fruits and herbs, and some exotic teas.

“They give instant color and flavor,” she says, citing a lavender infusion as a crowd favorite.

Chai peach is a nighttime draw at the bar, the cocktail equivalent of a fruit cobbler.

“We infuse the vodka with chai tea for days, then shake it with orange juice and add peach schnapps,” Bellows says.

Should you find yourself sitting at the bar at 21 Degrees North anytime soon, order the Maui Martini – an organic tribute to the island with a gentle combination of Maui’s Ocean Vodka infused with Maui lavender.

Her signature drink also is attracting a cult-like following: pineapple infused vodka with coconut and vanilla served with a Maui cane sugar rim.

“It is like having dessert in a glass,” she says.

It comes as no surprise that the place to find infusions with a clever culinary twist is at town, the Kaimuki restaurant where Dave Power tends bar and infuses vodka with something of a missionary’s zeal.

“Creating your own vodka infusions gives you new flavors to work with,” says Power, for whom part of the attraction is re-creating flavors that no longer exist.

Take his caraway-infused vodka, for example, a cocktail that uses Kummel, a liqueur from northern Europe.

“One of the things about infusing vodka is the ability to add flavor and alcohol to the mix while maintaining a level of control over the sweetness,” adds Power, noting that the caraway infusion went very well with rye whiskey, sugar and a dash of bitters.

In a city with farmers markets seemingly sprouting on every corner, the focus for these cutting edge cocktails are locally grown herbs, fruits and vegetables. Take town’s Thai chili pepper infused vodka, for example. The restaurant’s “Mary Quite Contrary” is a masterful mix of urban-grown chili with celery and a tomato garnish. The verdant infusion takes the original Bloody Mary and turns it inside out.

“It’s a celery-based drink with tomato, rather than a tomato juice-based drink with celery garnish,” explains Power, who wanted a spicy edge without changing the bright green color of the celery juice.

Infusions are made easier when all you have to do is walk to the garden and pull a few herbs. Caraway, lavender, rosemary, fennel, all-spice, lemon, black pepper and basil are no longer the basics of a kitchen garden. But what’s really exciting to those who take the pairing of food and drink to new heights is that infusions aren’t just limited to herbs and vodka.

“I’ve made bourbon with bacon,” says Reutner. “Really, the possibilities are endless.”

PRAVDA, NYC

While local mixologists are exploring the myriad possibilities
of infused cocktails, many bars and lounges throughout the world
are taking the art of infusion one step further by revolving their
entire menus and repertoires around the concept.

In New York City, Pravda is a must-visit for vodka connoisseurs.
Pravda’s list of domestic and imported vodkas is more than 70 varieties strong, with spirits hailing from Eastern Europe to Vietnam
and New Zealand.

The bar/restaurant boasts several house-infused creations, including The Gogol (horseradish vodka and pickled quailed egg),
Moscow Mule (ginger vodka, ginger beer and lime juice), Mango
Lassi (mango vodka with yogurt and mango puree) and Vladmir
Martini (fig vodka and Russian tea syrup).

When paired with caviar and Russian-inspired food, Pravda offers a great experience.