Monday, September 13, 2010
Boozin' and Infusin'
For several reasons, I rarely drink coffee. However, that doesn't mean I dismiss it entirely, as I tend to examine even things I don't particularly like for cocktail potential. Coffee has been used in a number of drinks for some time now, but what I wanted to do was find a way to simply use the beans themselves rather than actually make coffee and work that into the mix.
This dovetailed nicely with my desire to get involved in infusing spirits, which is something I'd been meaning to experiment with for a while. The conventional wisdom is that clear booze like gin and vodka tend to be the most infusion-friendly, but since I often choose not to heed wisdom, I thought I'd take a stab at infusing some rum.
The first step was swinging by my local coffee joint and asking for some nice, middle-of the-road coffee beans. The knowledgeable gent who runs the place suggested a medium-roast Costa Rican variety, and since I trust his expertise implicitly (especially since I know squat about coffee), I was off to the races. The next stage was finding some rum...
Fortunately I have a few bottles handy, so this step wasn't too hard. I decided to try several styles of rum, and found that the one that yielded the tastiest results was Zaya Gran Reserva. Zaya is a nice dark rum that falls on the sweeter end of the spectrum flavor-wise, and it matches up with coffee wonderfully, it turns out. This is not to say that white rums and gold rums won't work (they do), just that it may take a bit of fiddling and trial-and-error to get combos that work well for you.
So what does infusing a spirit entail? Well, it's basically dumping hunks of something flavorful into liquor so that the liquor will absorb the flavor of whatever you put in it. You can make it pretty complicated if you want, but it's a fundamentally simple procedure. Here's my method:
1) Put coffee beans in rum.
2) Wait 24 hours and take them out.
Yep, that's all I did. I used a ratio of 1:4 (for example, a quarter-cup of beans to a cup of rum), and that imparted a nice, solid coffee flavor without overwhelming the rum. I swirled the beans around a couple times and strained everything when I was done, but that was about it. Nothing really brain-breaking.
Flavor aside, I was also curious about whether any caffeine would transfer to the rum. After a brief consultation with a science-type guy I know, the answer he provided was "Yes." (He elaborated on this to a degree, but it's enough to know that it happens). I can verify this is true, because after sampling several infusions, I got tuned up pretty good. Experiencing both a caffeine AND an alcohol buzz simultaneously is a distinctive feeling, and now I have a glimpse into why the whole "vodka-and-Red Bull" phenomenon took off. Still, I don't recommend basing a cocktail around the concept of stimulants and depressants struggling for control of your nervous system. I seem to remember hearing something about that being bad from my 8th-grade health class, and if you can't trust the girl's gym teacher on matters of body chemistry, where can you turn?
Nonetheless, I encourage everyone who finds this idea appealing to do it. It's easy, and playing with combinations of different rums and coffee is big fun. Just bear in mind that the type of beans, the amount, and the length of time you leave them to soak will affect the end result. I found out that leaving them soak longer than 24 hours, regardless of rum type, will ratchet up the bitterness, and after a 2- or 3 -day soak, your rum will really have an edge on it. But if you like that sort of thing, then sally forth.
And of course, the whole point of this exercise was to have a nifty drink ingredient. Again, some experimentation was required, and it turned out the biggest obstacle I faced was using it judiciously enough so that everything didn't end up tasting like Kahlua. After trying several concepts and tinkering extensively, I put together something I can live with:
1 oz. Coffee-infused Zaya Gran Reserva rum
.75 oz. Brugal Anejo rum
.75 oz. Appleton V/X rum
.5 oz. Mandarine Napoleon
.5 oz. Demerara simple syrup
2.5 oz. Unsweetened pineapple juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3 drops Fee's Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
6 drops Vanilla extract
Shake all with ice and strain into highball glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with orange peel and pineapple leaf.
Now I know that there are some gadget freaks and gearhead types out there expressing concern that most infusion methods involve an appalling lack of hardware and/or engineering. If you are one of those people, I direct you here, where you can indulge your perverse cravings for pressurized gases and precision-tooled metal.