It's almost just a cruel and torturous thing to start enjoying these now, when the summer dresses have already been replaced by fall arrivals on the racks and we're trying to face facts that we're in the final sunny stretches of summer already. But I'm going to milk it for every last drop of Vitamin D I can get before being forced to take it in capsule form, and even then you can bet I'll be washing them down with these: Summer cocktails made with infused waters.
I first heard about such “H20 Cocktails” from local celebrity chef Kathy Casey, who developed the concept for Sweden's Purity Vodka. “Their master distiller likes to drink his vodka with a little water in it, so I thought, what if we flavored the water a bit?” Casey told me.
Her process involves soaking ingredients like fresh berries, fruit, cucumbers, peppers and herbs in purified water overnight to create a lightly flavored (and zero-calorie!) mixer. Or, if you have an iSi Whipper, you can cut your steeping time down to about 20 minutes. Pour it over ice with an ounce of good vodka and a garnish and you've got a killer summer quencher light and refreshing enough to pretty much live on until the end of September. (Just so I don't get myself in trouble here, Kathy is not encouraging you switch to a vodka and water diet for the next two months. I am.)
Why infuse the water instead of the liquor itself, like so many bars love to do? The taste is much cleaner. And instead of using three ounces of liquor to get the flavor into your drink, by moving the flavor to the mixer, you can cut back on the alcohol for a lighter cocktail (and drink SO many more!). Casey recommends using a higher starch vodka that's more complex in character, such as Purity or Ebb & Flow, which is better at bringing out the flavors. Her online TV show, Kathy Casey Liquid Kitchen, has a couple of fantastic demos on how to make these at home: catch the Berry Purity H20 here and the ridiculously refreshing Watermelon Habañero H20 here. (Recipe for Pineapple Cilantro Water follows at the bottom of this article.) Keith Waldbauer, senior mixology associate for Kathy Casey Liquid Kitchen, also has plans to put one or two of these creations on his menu at Capitol Hill's Liberty, which he co-owns, in the next month or so.
If you absolutely have to have one of these right now (and I think I do), head on over to Jerry Traunfeld's Poppy, where bartender extraordinaire Veronika Groth is having a grand old time raiding the kitchen and backyard herb garden alike for her own versions of water infusions. I stopped by the other day and had her make me a Block Party ($9): Gin, cucumber water, rose geranium water, mint syrup and lemon juice, a gorgeously multilayered drink that brings waves of different flavors across your nose and palette, first one by one, then melding together in a truly perfect cocktail union.
“I started thinking about sense of smell and those that will create a thirst or hunger, and having that be the top layer of the cocktail,” Groth says, “and that complements the actual flavors you do get.” She uses a distillation method to create a highly-concentrated flavored water—similar to a perfume. It's just enough work that I'd have to be in kind of a loopy mood to try it at home. A brick is centered in the middle of a pot with a glass bowl on top. She then scatters the rose geranium leaves around the brick and covers them with water. A second skillet with ice is placed on top of the bowl. As the water heats and the ice melts, the scented water rises to the top and collects in the bowl. Only a couple of drops of the stuff are needed to create a fragrance-forward cocktail that yields to a super refreshing and clean taste.
Groth, whose personal poison is the brown liquors, also plans on experimenting with richer, smokier flavors like hickory chips to combine with bourbon for the fall. With comforting treats like that coming down the pipeline, I think the changing seasons are going to be a little bit easier to accept.
Kathy Casey's Pineapple Cilantro Water
Makes about 4 cups or 10 servings
2 cups 1/4" diced very ripe pineapple
6 sprigs cilantro
1 tsp. chopped fresh ginger
4 cups filtered, distilled or bottled high-quality water
Combine the ingredients in a glass pitcher and let sit, refrigerated for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight. Strain before serving.
For an intensive infusion method, place the ingredients in an iSi Whipper and charge with 2 N2O chargers. Let sit for 20 minutes then release the gas with the whipper standing upright. You can use the infusion right away or for even more flavor intensity, transfer the infusion to a container and let sit overnight, refrigerated. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer.