It came in a cheap plastic bottle – check. It came in a BIG cheap plastic bottle – check. It only cost around 7 bucks – check. You got a lot virtually for free – check. It smells like a load of unwashed socks inside a dumpster full of nuclear waste – check. It tastes like lighter fluid, rotten eggs and raw sewage – check. What you thought would be a bargain buzz ended up being Lucifer’s liquor itself – check. And checkmate.
So now what? You’re on a budget, so you really don’t want to dump the stuff down the drain. And you can’t hang onto it solely for the purpose of repeatedly and creatively swearing at it. But you can make it better. Maybe not great, maybe not anything that would even find its way onto the trashiest restaurant’s drink list – and certainly not Grey Goose or Absolut – but better. Drinkable. And making your cheap vodka taste better doesn’t require magical incantations, or sacrificing your first born. It only requires a few simple items that you probably already have at home.
Activated charcoal method
Your first task is to assemble several coffee filters, two funnels (or, in lieu of that, plastic cups with the bottoms cut out), two drinking glasses, a strainer or colander, the evil firewater vodka and activated carbon, which is the vital item.
Just what is activated carbon? Also known as active carbon, it’s based upon the sixth element on the periodic table, and it’s gone through a process that makes it particularly porous. Filled with microscopic holes, it draws out impurities and toxins. It’s present in a variety of liquid filters – even the ones that the high-end distilleries utilize when producing their expensive libations. You can pick some up at most pet supply stores, or purchase a bag of it on Amazon.com for less than $10.
According to Davy Lindig, head distiller of Peach Street Distillers in Colorado, charcoal filtration – in varying degrees of technical complexity – is implemented by just about every vodka distillery in existence. Referring to his filtration machine as a torpedo, Lindig explains that it drives the alcohol upward through a pressurized tube, which produces hundreds of gallons of vodka during a 48-hour period of filtration. Homemade coffee filter methods utilize the same principle – strain vodka through carbon, and nasty distillation byproducts are eliminated.
Start by using a strainer or colander to carefully wash the carbon under the faucet. This removes silt and residue. Next, place the carbon in a coffee filter and then place the coffee filter in your funnel. Put that funnel in a glass, pour your cheapo vodka through the funnel filter and allow it to drip. Place the funnel filter into another glass, pouring the once-filtered vodka through the funnel a second time.
With each filtration, more and more of the organic impurities that make your bargain basement vodka taste so cheap will be siphoned out. Lindig suggests five minutes of filtration with carbon for every batch of horrific cheap vodka.
Activated charcoal method
This method requires a little patience, which you probably have in short supply, after discovering that your cheap vodka was not the clever, practical purchase you thought it was.
Start by putting two inches of your activated charcoal at the bottom of the offensive vodka bottle, then recap the bottle. Leave the bottle as-is for a week – yes, seven whole days – shaking it for several minutes daily. At night, place the vodka bottle in the freezer, taking it out during the day so it can sit at room temperature. After exercising the patience of a saint for one week, eliminate the charcoal from the vodka by pouring the contents through mesh, ensuring that there is a bottle or other receptacle under the mesh. Then drink, and Godspeed to you.
Use the water filter method
First, pour your cheap, revolting vodka through a water filter, such as a Brita, allowing it to filter into the Brita pitcher. This eliminates impurities that make cheap vodka taste even cheaper. Repeat this process two or three more times, pouring the alcohol from its original bottle and through the Brita filter. Briefly let your vodka stand, then prepare to enjoy a drink that smells and tastes less like stagnant water and more like a liquid meant for drinking.
Give it the cold shoulder
For several hours, allow the vodka to chill out in the freezer. Even drinks that taste like transmission fluid can be rescued by chilling them. Just make sure you drink your cheap vodka while it’s still cold. You don’t want to ruin the illusion that this junk might actually be fairly good.
Camouflage the taste by making cocktails
Make chocolate vodka, since the great magical power of chocolate (other than the fact that it’s, well, chocolate) is that it can improve the taste of just about anything. You can also make Skittles vodka – the sugary sweetness of the candies can overpower any residual vodka raunchiness. You can infuse the vodka with any taste that you love, from vanilla to mango to blueberry – and even bacon, if that’s your thing. There may be some residual chemical flavor, but your cocktail will taste much less like nuclear waste.
Cook with it
Cooking with your cheap vodka will help mask its fiendish flavor – as a matter of fact, cooking with quality vodka is something that’s discouraged. Mix your vodka into recipes requiring alcohol, such as puddings, jams, homemade sauces and ketchups. You can also go online, do a search for “vodka recipes,” and see what interesting concoctions you can cook up.
Follow these tips with your cheap vodka, and prepare to enjoy a drink that tastes less like jet fuel, and more like something made for human consumption.