Tomorrow, April 12th, we celebrate Yuri’s Night, the anniversary of the first manned spaceflight by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961. More than 300 parties are taking place in over 50 countries (find one near you here!), and all of those revelers are going to need something to drink. Time to invent a cocktail!
I decided to do a take on the Moscow Mule, a refreshing classic that combines vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer. For my adaptation, I wanted to do something that would connect the drink to the man of the hour. It turns out that nitrous oxide (N2O) is a component of some types of liquid rocket propellants, which gave me the idea to infuse the vodka using a process called Nitrogen Cavitation.
Cavitation (according to Wikipedia) is “the formation and then immediate implosion of cavities in a liquid – i.e. small liquid-free zones (“bubbles”) – that are the consequence of forces acting upon the liquid.” Nitrogen cavitation specifically is a process used in biology labs to disrupt cells. From gastrobiology.blogspot.com:
Nitrogen is dissolved in the cell suspension under high pressure within the cavitation chamber, or bomb. The cell suspension is then released dropwise through outflow tubing as the pressure is released. The nitrogen comes out of solution, forming bubbles that expand and rupture the cells. Shear stress also contributes to cell disruption, as bubbles stream through the solution, bathing the cells.
Cooks have discovered that they can used the same process to instantly infuse a liquid with flavor. By combining the liquid and flavoring agents in a pressure chamber–a cream whipper–and charging with N2O, you can break open the cells walls in the herb, fruits, etc and draw those flavors out into the surrounding liquid. What would take weeks to infuse by steeping happens in less than two minutes.
It’s not exactly rocket fuel, but it is a wonder of modern science. Read on for step-by-step photos of how to infuse the vodka and the recipe for the Vostok Fuel:
Nitrogen-Cavitated Tarragon Vodka
4 oz Russian vodka (I used Tito’s from Texas–don’t tell…)
2 g dried tarragon (Russian tarragon if you can find it!)
Combine the vodka and tarragon in a cream whipper, screw on the lid, and then charge with a nitrous oxide (N2O) cartridge.
You can double this recipe to make a larger amount at one time, but if you do, use two N2O charges.
A nice iSi whipper costs around $100, but I’ve seen cheaper ones at the headshops near my apartment in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. (They sell N2O charges, as well, though I have no idea why… ;)) If you don’t have a cream whipper, you can infuse the vodka the old-fashioned way by combining the herbs and spirit in a sealed container for about a week, shaking a couple times a day. I would make a big batch this way.
2 oz tarragon vodka
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
4-6 oz ginger beer (I like a spicy, drier one like Fever-Tree, but use whatever you like, including ginger ale)
Sprig of fresh tarragon (again, Russian tarragon if you can find it)
Combine the vodka and lemon juice with ice in a shaker and shake to chill. Pour into a tall glass (with additional ice if desired) and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a sprig of tarragon.