After a certain age the mention of the word “drinks” begins to take on a new meaning; conjuring up moments which you pretend to remember and others you really had hoped to forget by now. Chances are that by the time you’re an adult, and unless your moral conviction forbids you there are a few brews you love… and others you love to hate. That being said, I think that there are certainly a few times along your journey that you tried something which pleasantly surprised you, and it’s not because you expected the worst, but simply because the superficial announcement of its name was not enough to give you a clear idea of what it really is. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m about to tell you about one such moment, or, moments I should say; the first time I set out to try a Rum "Infusion”.
It’s a fancy name, and one would assume it brings across the point, but if you’re anything like me the term leaves much to the imagination. It’s alcohol with something of course but how does it work? Is the point to put enough alcohol in the thing so that when I eat it I get hazy eyed and start slurring inappropriate flirts at the furniture? Or was the idea to make the alcohol taste like whatever it would be infusing to covertly get me doing the type of things that make for great bar stories the subsequent weekend? After trying my hand (Liver?) at a few can safely say … It’s a bit of both.
For this particular escapade I was joined by my new colleague David, appropriately enough he hadn’t much experience with the drink infusions either so this was certainly gearing up to be a story worth telling. Upon David’s arrival we trot up to Charlie’s bar as its affectionately known at The Lodge and were met by an interestingly impressive display of tall mason jars with colorful contents. Of course any cocktail wrangled up by the wrong hands, no matter how tried and true it is will still be found lacking (or dangerous if in the realm of Long island iced teas), luckily we arrived at the bar on time to meet Epifanio.
Epi, as we shall now call him (he told us to call him that) is quite the charismatic piece of work, he exuded that uncommon charm which is ironically standard in any good bartender. After the pleasantries we were beset by the reality that there was quite a robust selection before us, ranging from Coconut Tambran (Tamarind) to the more intimidating unlabeled ones (I actually didn’t dare ask, they were pretty though), so instead of shake down our brains for what might be the most pleasing to the palette we entrusted the task to the eager drink-master across the bar.
Sorrell pineapple infused Mojito – I decided to take a jab at the Sorrell infusion, still not knowing what to do with it I asked Epi what it would be good in; Margarita, Mojito… I proceeded to end the input sequence from my ears for he had just sung my tune. David put his order in, a daiquiri, if I’m not mistaken and Epi was off, mixing both drinks at the same time and presenting them in record time.
Historically speaking I’ve never been a fan of fruity drinks, but this was different, very close to sorrel juice but not quite (“Obviously” some of you may be thinking but bear with me), the tangy flavors of the sorrel and pineapple contrasted eloquently against the fresh hints of the crushed mint leaves, never before has a drink been labelled as “relaxing” in my head as the fruit notes swirled calmly amidst the electrifying jolts of mint all brought to life by the brisk inhale of the club soda it was suspended in.
Sorrell is common in the Caribbean and Central America for making a sort of sweet tangy Juice, and I’ve even seen some Guatemalan brands of Sorrell rum which made it all the more interesting that something which seemed so simple could achieve this fantastic blend. Sorrel pineapple infused Mojitos are officially my favorite drink of the year thus far, I’ll be back for more. Over to my left it seemed David was enthralled by his own symphony of discovery, so much that I thought it best to get his story, and I quote:
Watermelon Mint Daiquiri – The bar has a variety of infusion options , I wanted something a bit refreshing and I chose the watermelon mint infusion in a Daiquiri. I waited a bit while the excellent bar master whipped up this concoction. When it landed in front of me I was mesmerized, it looked refreshing, like a fresh breeze last, presented in a very stylish mason jar, with a slice of watermelon hanging off the edge.
The faint pink hue was mouth-watering considering the humidity and I was ready to jump into this jar of fruit goodness. Okay I’m drooling, back to the drink; so I take a sip and it was awesome, it is such a refreshing drink, half way through I had to ask the bar tenders if there was really alcohol in this! They confirmed to me over and over that yes there is alcohol in this drink, deadly I thought, these are dangerous.
The flavor of the mint and watermelon complement each other perfectly, the watermelon was sweet and quite refreshing, and the mint ensured an even balance against the nectarous taste of watermelon. The mint grown here at the Maya farm are picked fresh when the infusions are made, and it really made the difference. My choice for infusion drinks here at the bar is definitely the Watermelon Mint Daiquiri 10/10.
At this point my interest had certainly been piqued and I wanted to know more about what exactly these infusions were. Our bartender explained they make them all themselves, fresh, in house with seasonal fruits soaked over time with local rum. Being that we are a tropical country I think you can imagine what sorts of possibilities this opens up in terms of variety (mango blackberry comes to mind… I should suggest that) so there’s never really cause for boredom here. I lost myself in asking factual questions, but surely you aren’t here for that, back to the drinks!
I got brave and decided to venture into the unlabelled bottles and picked out Cocoa bean and rum while David went off what I consider the deep end and chose Ginger, allspice, and cinnamon infused rum.
All Spice/Medley Mojito- Mojitos, the drink of the tropics (next to rum + anything) has been done over and over but as I recently discovered there are always ways to reinvent things. Here I am sitting in front of about a dozen infusions, all appetizing . I was lost as to which to choose, then one caught my eye, the Ginger/All Spice/Cinnamon infusion. The first thing that crossed my mind was what in the world?!
What a strange combination, but since this is a year of what the heck, let’s do it, I decided to give it a swing. I told my bar master Epi to make me a mojito out of this infusion. He got his shakers and he went to work in the mad science lab… I mean bar.
What he created for me was a Ginger/All Spice/Cinnamon + Orange + Pineapple Mojito and boy was it good. I never expected the spices to be such a great complement for a mojito, it wasn’t too sweet, and it wasn’t too bitter instead it was a perfect balance of unorthodox ingredients. You don’t normally think of putting All Spice, a spice normally saved for Escabeche soup or other savory foods, into an alcoholic drink.
However, it worked perfectly, the spices give a bit of a kick when you take it down offset by a blast from the pineapple and orange which helps balance out the strong taste of the infused spices, and of course the mint to tie it all together. The bar tenders here sure did take my taste buds on a wild very delicious ride around the infusion block. It’s safe to say that all the infusions here are great but be daring and choose one of the stranger combinations you might find a favorite where you’d least expect it.
Cocoa bean Old Fashioned – “Surprise me” was the phrase, possibly a quiet challenge because my imagination could barely conceptualize what would taste good with cocoa beans and rum. Queue up, the Old Fashioned, at hearing the name I wasn’t sure if that was a thing or he had just made it up (apparently it’s actually a thing). I wasn’t sure if I liked it at first but after the ice mellowed it was really enjoyable; very punchy, earthy, chocolatey, and certainly something else which I couldn’t place.
I decided to ask Epi about the composition of this and in the midst of his explanation I discovered that mystery ingredient, turns out Old Fashioned is really so and I say this because of the inclusion of “Bitters”. Now bitters is a general term for an alcoholic preparation consisting of botanical ingredients and I mean that literally, with components ranging from specific tree barks to roots, leaves, vines and usually ends up being bitter or bittersweet and tastes like herbs (think Jägermeister). I had no choice but to be very impressed as I had never liked bitters in any way shape or form, but this, I enjoyed a lot. Kudos to Epi and that Cocoa Bean Rum, they certainly made a believer out of me.
To some of your dismay two drinks weren't enough to startle my liver into believing I was intoxicated, but that’s the great part about these little buggers, they’re strong enough to get a party going but won’t overpower your highly attuned socializing prowess nor dull the sword that is your clever wit. It was an interesting expedition outside of my comfort zone however, and since I only tried two that does leave quite an ever expanding array to try out.
I also have to say that in retrospect it seems both David and I enjoyed the mint in practically everything, who’d have thought? So you’ll be hearing about this again, perhaps, with maybe even wackier combinations infused into our mixes, I’m definitely excited again.