Introduction: Horseradish Vodka

All great successes start with a failure or two.  This particular project evolved over the course of two years and three trips out to the dust at Burning Man.  It started with my corruption by the folks at Bloody Maryland, a theme camp dedicated to serving the best Bloody Mary on the playa.  They made me the first Bloody Mary I ever liked.  Sadly, they only come out every other year; so the next year I planned on keeping our corner of the playa supplied with Bloody Marys.  I over-prepared, and bought a pound of organic horseradish at Whole Foods which I pre-grated with a zester and stored in a mason jar.  Needless to say, I'd brought too much horseradish; and eventually a large portion of it went bad after surviving the trip there and back again.  There had to be a better way... 

Infusions!  If I infuse my vodka with horseradish I'll have less to pack and transport, and it won't go bad.  Now the experimentation began, because I had no idea whether a horseradish vodka infusion would work.  There were some hits and misses, but in the end horseradish vodka was born, along with its companion "The Playa Mary".

To make horseradish vodka, you need two simple ingredients:
  • Fresh horseradish root.  (Whole Foods, Farmer Joe's, and I imagine other stores.)
  • Cheap unflavored vodka.  (Imperfections of cheap vodka will be obliterated by the horseradish, so I buy whatever is on sale.)
And a small handful of tools:
  • A blender or fine grater.
  • A couple of intermediate containers, preferably glass.  One should have a resealable lid, like a mason jar.
  • Coffee filters.
  • A funnel or two.  I used a standard funnel and a canning funnel.
  • A scale.
  • A knife.
  • Coffee Press (optional, but I recommend it)
  • Zip-It Drain Cleaning Tool
The amount of horseradish to vodka is a matter of personal taste.  The next page will try to address varying ratios.

Step 1: Ingredient Ratios

I've mixed batches with as little as 1oz of horseradish per liter of vodka all the way up to 8oz per liter.  All of them have a strong flavor, but the burn does get delightfully more intense in the higher concentrations.  Here is a picture of a recent test batch, so you can see the variation in color.

For the purposes of this Instructional, I'll be using a 4oz horseradish to 1 liter vodka ratio.  Starting with a 1.75 liter bottle of vodka, I'll be using 7oz of horseradish.

Let the madness begin!

Step 2: Prepare and Mix!

Starting with 1.75L of cheap vodka and 7oz of washed horseradish:

  1. Fill your 1qt mason jar about half-way with vodka.  (Technically, you could skip this step, but your eyes will regret it!)
  2. Grate the horseradish into the mason jar.  Being half-filled with vodka will help reduce the fumes from the horseradish.
  3. Pour the remaining vodka into a temporary container.
  4. Using the funnel, pour the vodka and horseradish 'mash' back into the original vodka bottle.  Use the vodka from step #3 to wash out the mason jar and flush the pulp through the funnel.
  5. Top off the vodka bottle with the remaining vodka, and put the remainder back into the mason jar for later.
  6. Put the vodka bottle someplace cool and dark for the next week.  I think it helps to shake the bottle once a day.
Alternatively, you can use a blender to puree your horseradish in vodka at step #2. There is less labor at the preparation phase, but expect to run through a couple of extra filtration phases to get all the particulates out.  When I do large batches, I go this route; but it takes me two weeks to complete the whole process instead of one.

Step 3: Filtration


For these steps, the following tools have served me well:
  • Coffee press
  • Funnel, with flow grooves.
  • Coffee filters
  • Zip-It Drain Cleaning Tool
  • Empty 1.75L bottle with cap
  1. Put a coffee filter into the funnel, and the funnel into your spare bottle.
  2. Thoroughly shake your vodka with grated horseradish. 
  3. Then fill the coffee press to within an inch of the top.  If the grated horseradish clogs the bottle, I have found a Zip-It drain clog tool works wonderfully for getting the flow going again.
  4. Press the grated horseradish to the bottom.
  5. Slowly pour the separated fluid into the filter.
  6. You can expect that the filters will get clogged several times.  When this happens carefully lift the filter out, close the top, and carefully squeeze out as much fluid as you can into the filter.  If you squeeze too hard you will rupture the filter.  Not the end of the world, as you will need to filter at least one more time anyways.  :)
  7. If there is any vodka+grated horseradish left in the bottle, go back to step 2 and continue from there.  You can use the spare vodka left over from the preparation steps to get all the horseradish out.
  8. It's OK if the vodka is still cloudy at this stage.  Coffee filters are crappy filters.
  9. Place the bottle in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
  10. Repeat Filtration, sans the coffee press steps, as needed to remove sediment.
You now have around 1.5L of pungent spirits that are perfectly suited to the best Bloody Mary on the planet.

Step 4: Conclusion

I previously published a less detailed version of this recipe on my website, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.  Releasing the recipe was an offshoot of a discussion some friends and I had out on the playa about there being a need for "Open Source Liquor".  It worries us that only a handful of monks have the recipe for Chartreuse, and we hope Open Source can solve that problem.  :)

In the next day or so I'll be posting a sister recipe, The Playa Mary.  I will also be posting more pictures as the bottle shown mid-process in my photos progresses towards completion.

If you live in the SF East Bay, I occasionally host a Bloody Mary Brunch at a bar that has an infuser's license and serves my vodka.  Drop me a line if you'd like an invite.

Check back soon!
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