June 24, 2018
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Houlton vodka maker offers up creative cocktails for charity

By Emily Burnham, BDN Staff

There’s an art to making a great cocktail, as any bartender will tell you. The evening of Wednesday, Aug. 24, Bangor will be a hotbed of creative adult beverages with the city’s first-ever Infusathon, sponsored by Houlton’s own Twenty2 Vodka. Nine locations across downtown Bangor will take Twenty2’s high-proof spirit, infuse it with any number of ingredients and pair it with a small bite of food. The event goes from 4:30 to 7 p.m, and tickets, for those age 21 and over, are $15 and are available at The Charles Inn in downtown Bangor, with proceeds going to a charity decided on by participant votes. A winning infusion will be chosen at the end of the night.

Scott Galbiati and his wife, Jessica Jewell, founded Twenty2 in 2009 out of a warehouse in Jewell’s hometown of Houlton. They held their first Infusathon in Portland in June with seven restaurants participating, including Nosh Kitchen Bar, Sonny’s, the Blue Spoon, the Grill Room, David’s, the Salt Exchange and the Armory Lounge. A panel of judges and participant votes decided the winner, and more than $1,000 was raised for charity.

“We awarded Best Infusion to The Grill Room, who did three separate infusions with three separate sweet components, and then constructed the sample using a syringe to perfectly layer each flavor component,” said Galbiati. “[They were] a bacon infusion sweetened with maple syrup, a tomato infusion sweetened with a reduced pomegranate juice, and an iceberg lettuce infusion sweetened with simple syrup. It was paired with a skewer of wedge lettuce, cherry tomato, thick cut bacon and a drizzle of blue cheese.”

Bangor participants include The Charles Inn, the Reverend Noble Pub, Ipanema Bar & Grill, Nocturnem Drafthaus, Thai Siam, Zen, Luna Bar & Grill, the Fiddlehead Restaurant and Sea Dog. Each place’s infusion and food pairing is a closely guarded secret. The $15 admission gets each participant nine drink tickets for a one ounce pouring of each infusion, along with the food. It’s designed as a pub crawl event, so participants can make their way around town at their own pace.

Infusing vodka and other liqueurs is nothing new, and the popularity of commercially available flavored vodkas is evidenced by the incredibly wide selection available at any grocery or liquor store. Everything from pear, citrus and cinnamon to whipped cream, bubblegum and root beer vodkas are available. Galbiati and Jewell’s product, however, is top shelf — Twenty2 recently won a silver medal at the 2011 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and a platinum medal for the 2011 SIP Awards, an international spirits competition. When Galbiati infuses his vodka, he takes the time to make it right.

“Infusing is really an ancient process. Hundreds of years ago, when the quality of spirits wasn’t at the level and consistency we can achieve today, a handful of herbs or fresh picked fruit improved the flavor to drinkable status,” said Galbiati. “But today, with the quality neutral spirit we can produce identically with each batch, adding fresh fruit or herbs elevates the final spirit to an entirely new flavor experience.”

For those infusing their own vodkas, Galbiati recommends using a higher proof spirit, such as Twenty2’s 160-proof spirit. That’s the spirit that the bars and restaurants participating in the Infusathon will be using for their beverages. The infusing process takes 5-7 days with a stronger alcohol, as opposed to nearly a month with a lower proof. After the infusion with a 160-proof spirit, the vodka ends up being about 140 proof.

“While traditional vodka will work for infusing, the low concentration of alcohol — only 40 percent — means the infusion will often take weeks to complete,” he said. “Since it’s the ethanol that does the infusing work, by increasing the [alcohol] concentration we can decrease the amount of time it takes to get fresh vibrant flavors.”

Galbiati says there are two major rules to follow when infusing spirits. The first is to only use ingredients of the highest quality. When using fruit, for example, use only quality fruit with no rotten spots or any seeds, core or rind.

“The second rule is to never include the citrus pith, the white layer of any citrus peel that exists between the juicy center and the essential-oil-rich zest. The pith is bitter, as in very bitter, and including it in the infusion will make the final infusion too bitter to drink,” said Galbiati.

A clean, air-tight jar is recommended to hold your spirit, like a large mason jar. While fruit is generally the most popular choice for an infusion, virtually anything can be used as an ingredient — and the amount you use depends upon how strong you want the flavor to be. Nuts, candy, spices, herbs and even meat and dairy can be used — it’s limited only by how creative you feel like getting. Galbiati has infused oak chips and has created a whisky-flavored infusion, and he has infused botanicals in search of a perfect gin tasting infusion. Specific instructions on how to infuse vodkas can be found at Twenty2’s High Proof Spirit website, with recipes, cocktails and more.

“My favorite infusion recipes have to be my cantaloupe flavored liqueur I call my ‘meloncello,’ like lemoncello, as well as my strawberry banana infusion. Both are delightfully sweet mixes that make for an awesome digestif to sip after a grilled dinner on the deck,” said Galbiati. “Probably my craziest flavor I’ve created to date would be my Seasoned Rotisserie Chicken infusion, made using the skin and wing tips of a rotisserie chicken picked up at the deli. The flavor is a little salty, a little oily, and 100 percent chicken.”

Raspberry Infused Vodka

Makes one 750ml bottle or sixteen 1.5 fl oz servings

Approximate ending ABV: 35%

Rinse 12 oz of fresh raspberries. Place into infusion jar and muddle berries to increase the surface area and release the juices contained within. Combine muddled raspberries with 10 fluid ounces of high proof spirit (10 fl oz = 245g). Seal tight and let sit for 1-3 days. Strain raspberry pulp from infused spirit. If you’d like your final infusion to be vibrant red but clear of “particles,” pass your infusion through a coffee filter. This may take a long time to filter completely. You should have approximately 20 fl oz of raspberry infused spirit. Mix 20 fl oz of raspberry infused spirit with 4 fl oz of simple syrup. You can substitute the simple syrup for filtered water if you wish, but our experience with raspberries has always been more pleasurable with a little sweet added. Bottle your finished raspberry infused vodka in your favorite glass bottle. Sealed tightly and kept cold, your infusion should last 2-3 weeks. Recipe courtesy of twenty2vodka.com.

Applewood Smoked Bacon Infused Vodka

Makes one 750ml bottle or sixteen 1.5 fl oz servings

Approximate ending ABV: 35%

Cook bacon on a cookie sheet in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Drain fat and allow to cool. Combine 4 oz of cooked chopped bacon to 12 fl oz of high-proof spirit (12fl oz = 294g). Seal tight and let sit for 1-3 days. Room temperature is okay. Strain bacon pieces from infused spirit. You may coffee filter if you require additional clarity, however the filter will also trap a lot of the bacon oil (that’s the flavor!) You should have approximately 12 fl oz of bacon-infused spirit. Mix your 12 fl oz of bacon infused spirit with 4 oz of Grade A Dark Amber Maple Syrup (the best you can find and afford) and 8 fl oz of filtered water. Bottle your finished bacon-infused vodka in your favorite glass bottle. Sealed tightly and kept cold, your infusion should last 1-2 weeks. Recipe courtesy of twenty2vodka.com.

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