When bartender Colleen Bush gets an order for certain specialty drinks, she pulls out a large jar of fruit and booze and often has to discourage a smiley young patron from wanting to try little pieces of alcohol soaked nectar.
“A lot of girls come in and say, ‘I want a piece of pineapple!’ I have to say, ‘No you don’t,’” Bush said. “It just tastes like a Vodka sponge at this point. I say, ‘I’ll give it to you, but it’s disgusting.”
This common exchange at the Silver Palm, a River West bar and restaurant reflects both an ignorance and growing interest in what Bush says is the next phase in Chicago’s alcohol appetite — the homemade infused alcohol.
Infusing liquor is a process that involves taking a large container, filling it with pieces of fruit and alcohol and letting it sit for at least a week. The vodka takes on the flavor of the fruit, which only becomes usable for soon-to-be sour-faced, overly curious customers. The Silver Palm makes a ginger vodka, a mango vodka and a pineapple vodka.
“From my experience where I work, flavored vodkas are kind of going out, and people are getting more into infused liquors,” Bush said.
This was reflected in a recent National Restaurant Association “What’s Hot and What’s Not” chef survey. Microdistilled/artisanals liquors — the fancy name for infused liquors — scored a 62 percent in the hot category, compared to flavored liquor’s 39 percent.
Restaurants such as Crust, known for its organic pizza, also are catching on to the trend. The Wicker Park spot has added to its menu the curiously earthy-sounding “organic rain vodka infused in-house with seasonal flavors.”