I’ve been meaning to write this posting for a while. About a month or so back we had a a sitter for the kids and a night out. This was the night we started at the Vault. After our experience at the Vault, I wanted a good drink and some people to watch. Our next stop was the Frog Bar at the Flying Frog Cafe. I had a great Sidecar there earlier this summer and have heard good things about the pear infused vodka.  Given my mood, I went for a Negroni. AC Gal ordered off the cocktail menu. They have a Cosmo varient made with Absolut Mandrin and Grand Marnier. You assume they are used in place of Absolut Citron and Cointreau that go into the original. Sounded good so she got one.

My Negroni hit the spot. The Cosmo variant was not so good. The orange aroma seemed artifical – like the flavor you get in an orange Fanta. I figured it was the Absolut vodka that was to blame. They mass produce the stuff, along with lord knows how many other “flavors.” You could safely assume each batch gets a squirt of the desired flavoring before it’s bottled and shipped. The idea behind the drink seemed reasonable, the selection of ingredients seemed to be what needed work.

With all the infusions I’ve done, an orange vodka seemed simple enough. Last spring I had made a Limoncello – lemon zest steeped in vodka for a long time, then sweetened with sugar syrup. Using proportions from that recipe, I zested one orange with a Microplane zester and added that to 375 ml of Gordon’s vodka. After two weeks I strained and had my orange vodka.

I had picked up half bottles of Absolut and Smirnoff orange flavored vodkas over the past few weeks. Before making drinks I set up a blind tasting of these for AC Gal.

I knew which one was in each glass and tried to be open minded as I tasted through them. The home made seemed the best to me. It tasted of fresh orange whereas the two commercial preparation tasted, well, commercial. The orange soda analogy came to mind again. AC Gal tasted blind. She picked the home made one as the best, saying that the Absolut tasted like orange candy. I think what we both noticed was a commercial orange flavoring at work.

This week’s How’s Your Drink column by Eric Felten is a tasting of drinks made from scratch and from a pre-made mix. He points out the problems from trying to preserve citrus flavors. Much of the flavor comes from volatile oils and terpenes that are altered during commercial preparation. I don’t know how the vodkas we tried are flavored, but the manufacturers must have found some way to get a consistent flavor profile from batch to batch. I can only imagine that soaking orange peels in the vodka would give an inconsistent result, so next best thing – one drop of orange flavoring per bottle.

A note on Grand Marnier before we start. David Embury summarizes well in the section on various liquors in the Fine Art of Mixing Drinks:

Grand Marnier (grawN marn-yay´) A dry, pungent, citrus liqueur—orange-flavored on a base of the finest grand champagne brandy. To me this is the absolute king of all liqueurs, excelling even Benedictine and Chartreuse. It lacks the antiquity of Goldwasser and Benedictine; it does not boast the religious parentage of Benedictine and Chartreuse; but for sheer excellence of flavor it is unsurpassed. It blends magnificently in all manner of cocktails, particularly of the Sour type. It is also superb in cooking, for all manner of dessert sauces, and, of course, it is an absolute “must” for crêpes suzette.

Well, on to the drink.

I took my Cosmo recipe from the Cocktail Database (who took it from Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology)

  • 1 1/2 oz citrus vodka
  • 1 oz triple sec
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • splash of cranberry juice for flavor

Shake and strain.

I made my Grand Marnier Cosmo by substituting GM for the triple sec and orange vodka for the citrus flavored.

Got a nice orange color in each. The Absolut Cosmo had the fake-orange aroma and taste. When I smelled the drink, I was transported back to the Frog Bar. It was the soda pop aroma that turned us both off on the drink. The orange is also much stronger in the commercial vodkas. We both enjoyed the home version more.

One thing about my drinks, even with almost a 1/2 ounce of cranberry juice added, I didn’t get the pink color that a Cosmo should probably have. I added a splash of Pomegranate juice. It gave a cool looking layered effect until I stirred it up and got a pale red.

So…for a bar that prides itself on it’s infused vodkas, I say: When the Absolut Madrian runs out, consider a simple orange infused vodka for this drink.