At one of the holiday season’s most memorable parties, I enjoyed a vodka infusion that I can’t stop thinking about.
At the gathering, Los Altos Hills residents and hosts Judy and George Marcus assigned their son, John Moutsanas, the bartending task of making the family’s favorite “Marcus Mango Delight,” which ages for two weeks. As a result of an infusion of mango and vanilla, John completely transformed the vodka – it was actually drinkable without a mixer. Apologies to my Polish and Russian friends who think vodka is best consumed straight up.
Desperate for more information, I wrote the next day and asked for the recipe. John shared that he serves his signature infusion at many Marcus family events, so his recipe (see below) is on a large scale.
While I could not resist trying the Marcus Mango Delight alone over ice, the Marcuses also offer it mixed with equal parts over soda water, tonic water or a lemon-lime soda like Sprite. John added the warning, “Do not eat the fruit,” which intrigued me.
Further investigation uncovered that the fruit can be eaten, but it must be refrigerated if saved beyond the party. Frankly, digging into the jar to fish out mango for garnish would not have improved it beyond its own tasty self.
Tips for customizing a vodka infusion
• Make it your own. Infusing vodka is quite simple, and time and imagination may be your only limitations. For instance, hot-pepper-infused vodka produces a Bloody Mary that pops.
Soaking herbs such as rosemary or basil in vodka adds depth to virtually any savory cocktail, including a martini. Fruit injects texture and flavor to nearly any cocktail you dream up – a Screwdriver, a Madras or even a Cosmopolitan.
• Strain your infused vodka before serving, especially if you have used small or chopped pieces for infusing. However, many glass vessels allow service from the bottom with a spigot, so larger fruit slices like lemons or the mango and vanilla featured this week, may be left in to float for decoration. I purchased the glass container in the above photo at Bed Bath & Beyond. A wider variety of infusion jars is available at www.infused-vodka.com. Cover Story at 216 Main St. sells a beautiful decanter that can be used in a multitude of ways and has a lid of sorts to strain as the drink is poured.
• Once aged and strained, freezing or at least refrigerating your infusion helps the flavor really shine when served. While some believe shaking vodka over ice will “bruise” it, I think the chill enhances it and really smoothes out the finish.
• Strong fruits like lemons only need to marinate a few days in the vodka to work their magic. More subtle flavors like mangoes, raspberries, strawberries and some herbs can sit for a full two weeks and should be chopped for maximum fruit to bleed into the vodka.
• While aging, infusions can be refrigerated or sit at room temperature, but they should not be exposed to direct sunlight or heat.
Need another reason to make your own infusion? Since 2008, Alcoholic Beverage Control has banned bars and restaurants from infusing their own liquors. They consider the art of altering liquor to be “rectification” and thus illegal. State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) has introduced legislation that seeks to end the ban on infused alcoholic beverages. I hope it passes – infusion doesn’t make the liquor more potent, just more delicious.
Marcus Mango Delight (Serves 35-100)
• 4 30-ounce bags dried mangoes (Philippine preferred)
• 3-5 liters vodka (any unflavored brand)
• 3 vanilla beans, whole and uncut (Madagascar preferred)
Two weeks before the event, place mangoes in sink and clean off sugar. Place moist mangoes in 50-ounce or larger glass container. Add vodka and vanilla beans. Do not refrigerate.
Stir every 3 days. Mangoes will expand over time, so leave room for air and keep out of direct sunlight. Soak for 14 days to maximize infusion of flavors.
Consume either straight up, over ice or mix with lemonlime soda, tonic water or soda water.