Chile Vodka Avocado at The Terminal Bar
“It’s really important to pair cocktails with the season,” says Rae Raymond, bar manager at the Terminal Bar, located inside the newly renovated Union Station. “That’s what people want to drink at the time, and our bodies just sort of crave certain things at certain times of the year.” When considering cocktail recipes for her summer menu, Raymond knew she wanted to work with savory ingredients that reflected flavors of the season. She chose avocado — not the easiest flavor to incorporate into a drink. But she was intrigued by the challenge of making it work, combining it with booze and putting it into a glass.
“Avocado is a flavor that I wanted to work with because it’s so refreshing,” she explains. She decided to pair it with vodka, eventually finding that a combination of two different vodkas was the best way to go. She mingled a regular vodka with the another vodka infused with hot and sweet peppers. Fresh-squeezed lime juice added tartness; however, it was a syrup Raymond made with avocados and sugar that allowed her not only to provide balance, but to infuse that savory flavor she was looking for. She called it, simply, Chile Vodka Avocado ($10).
The drink has been on the menu for two months, and so far it has been a hit. “This is one of our top sellers,” Raymond reports. “It’s one of the top three of our specialty cocktails. People usually get more than one because it’s light and it’s enjoyable.”
It took her a while to figure out how to make an avocado-flavored cocktail work, but she finally cracked the code. “The complexity of the cocktail is in the syrup,” she says. “That’s what’s great about the simplicity of the actual cocktail itself.”
“The avocado simple syrup was something that I kind of struggled with,” she continues. “What I ended up doing after a couple versions was making it sort of similar to a tea.” Raymond slices up the pale green flesh of an avocado (doing so increases the surface area) and adds them to hot water, letting them steep for about ten minutes.
“It’s really important to use an avocado that is either freshly ripe or not quite ripe yet,” she says, “because those will have the best vibrancy of color — you’re not going to get any brown spots. Once it’s steeped to the level that I prefer, I strain it off and bring the water up to a higher temperature and stir in the sugar.” When the sugar dissolves in the hot water, she has a light avocado syrup.
Raymond knew she wanted to make a vodka cocktail, so she combined the syrup with Russian Standard, the Terminal’s house vodka. Russian Standard is made in St. Petersburg, where winter wheat from the Russian steppes is milled and fermented. What’s unique about the distillery location is its proximity to Lake Ladoga; the underground waters in the area are considered some of the softest waters in the world. “Russian Standard is awesome,” Raymond says. “It’s an excellent vodka.”
But Raymond wanted more of those savory summer flavors, so she turned to another vodka, this time a flavored variety: Green Chile vodka, from St. George Spirits. The vodka is made from a variety of hot and sweet peppers, including jalapenos, serranos, habaneros and red and yellow bell peppers. An initial distillation includes crushed jalapenos and lime peels and cilantro. The serrano, habanero and bell peppers are individually infused with a base spirit, with those four infusions blended back into the first distillation to create the Green Chile vodka.
“All of St. George’s flavored vodkas are macerated so they retain the intensity of the flavor,” Raymond notes. “I really love their use of fresh ingredients. It’s pretty much the only flavored vodka that I’ll work with. The chile, especially, is nice, because it’s got a lot of heat to it. You can control that, based on the amount that you want to use.”
And that’s exactly why she blends the two vodkas. “The chile vodka pairs really nicely with the plain vodka, just to break it down a little bit,” Raymond says. “You get the heat of the jalapeno, without it being overwhelming on your palate. So, instead of being scorching, it comes out refreshing.”
Raymond even considered how the drink’s garnish affects the experience of the cocktail. “The mint is really nice, because mint has this unique property to sort of tie flavors together on the nose,” she says. “So whatever flavors you’re working with, it just sort of binds them together.”
The Terminal Bar doesn’t serve food. Instead, meals are delivered from nearby ACME Burger and Brat Corporation. Raymond recommends pairing her cocktail with ACME’s Kale Ginger Express salad ($8), which contains kale, romaine lettuce, toasted almond slices, quinoa, golden raisins, sweet Peruvian peppers, shredded carrots, and a citrus-ginger vinaigrette. She recommends adding ahi tuna ($4.50). “They’re both light,” she explains. The kale is finely shredded it’s just really easy to enjoy. It comes with little peppers that kind of burst in your mouth, which pair nicely with the pepper and avocado in the drink.”
“People love this drink,” Raymond says. “It’s super refreshing. It’s crisp. What’s nice about he mild acidity of the lime juice is that it just sort of creates that body with the pepper and avocado flavors and it’s just sort of almost like a soda quality on the palate — even though there’s no carbonation in the drink.”
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“What’s excellent about it is that your palate craves that spiciness, but then is immediately refreshed by the cooling sensation of the avocado,” Raymond says. “So, together, they start strong and then cool your palate on the finish.”
Mastering her avocado syrup was only the beginning of Raymond’s plan to offer cocktails with a seasonal twist. She plans to adapt more syrups to fit into cocktails that become a reflection of the time of year. “Syrups are very advantageous because they provide versatility,” she says. “You can use them with different spirit bases you can create depth and complexity in a three-ingredient cocktail.”
Chile Vodka Avocado
1 oz. St. George Spirits' chile vodka
1 oz. Russian Standard vodka
.75 oz. avocado simple syrup
.75 oz. lime juice
Pour all ingredients into a shaker tin, add ice. Shake vigorously and dump contents, including ice, into a double Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a mint sprig.