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Drink me: Hangar One Chipotle Vodka


Loyal readers know that I’m prone to making my own vodka infusions. I find most commercial flavored vodkas have a chemical, artificial flavor. DPaul and I have experimented with many permutations, sweet and savory alike, but even my Mad Scientist tendencies have their limits. Fortunately for me, the concoctionists at Hangar One are not so constrained.

We visited the Hangar One distillery on the former Alameda Air Force base Naval Air Station a few months ago, along with a couple of other local food bloggers. It’s a recommendable excursion, though I would prefer to return and experience it when they are actually doing something; on weekends (and, for that matter, many weekdays — it’s a small-batch operation), it’s basically a huge, cavernous warehouse with a big, pretty alembic still perched in the middle of the floor. Still, it’s interesting to see where they do what they do, and to hear their philosophy about making top-notch infused vodkas.

Infused. That’s the operative word here. Whereas big-name industrial distillers like Grey Goose, Smirnoff and Absolut flavor their vodka with chemical extracts, Hangar One’s vodkas derive their flavors from direct contact with the actual ingredient they are meant to taste like. (Interestingly, Chow’s panel outwardly disliked both Hangar One and Charbay, both artisanal, fruit-infused products. I know from personal experience that vodka infusion deconstructs the flavors of the source ingredients, sometimes resulting in some intensified notes and others suppressed; it is surely easier, or at least more effective, to build a better — i.e., more generally palatable — flavored vodka chemically. But count me among the stalwarts who prefer a true infusion.)

The other thing I respect about Hangar One is their tendency to sidestep the obvious. Everyone else makes lemon; Hangar One opts for the otherworldly and highly perfumed Buddha’s Hand. Lime is de rigueur; but Kaffir lime adds an exotic edge.

But why stop at pedestrian fruit flavors? Last year, they kicked off their Alchemist Series, extremely small batches of more experimental flavors, with a wasabi-infused creation, which I unfortunately never had the pleasure of trying. (Our tour guide at the distillery recounted that, as wasabi is a member of the mustard family, it combined with vodka, a volatile solvent, to form, well, mustard gas. The distillers had to wear gas masks while developing the infusion.)

This year, it’s chipotle. So when the manager at Plumpjack Wines told me they had just gotten their small allocation of the stuff in, I bought it on the spot. As I proudly unsheathed the bottle from the brown bag when I got home, DPaul’s eyebrows rose.

First up, a taste, straight up. I poured the barest drizzle into two shot glasses, and sipped.

From the instant the liquid — nay, the very vapors — hit the palate, a searing burn and almost meaty smokiness pervaded my mouth. Tears welled in my eyes. I hacked out a couple dry coughs.

In other words, delicious. But clearly, not a spirit meant to be taken lightly, or alone. Bloody Marys are the obvious application, and no doubt what inspired this invention, but here’s the thing: Neither DPaul nor I particularly care for them.

So what to do with this literal and figurative firewater? I wasn’t the first to come up with a cocktail showcasing the vodka‘s incendiary qualities, but I found little else. My mind immediately drew to complementary flavors in Latin and Southeast Asian cooking — a little tropical fruit for some sweetness to temper the burn, some lime for sour to balance the flavors.  Perhaps a little salt to round things out. After all, how does it go — Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet?

I am no mixologist, but a little experimentation yielded some surprisingly delicious results. We produced two cocktails, of similar proportions but of slightly different ingredients, each with distinctive character. The smoky chipotle flavor remains assertive, yet never overpowers — no mean feat that. The names are arbitrary and whimsical — one of them dubbed by our neighbor. I look forward to tweaking these recipes further; no doubt we’ll reach smoky cocktail nirvana right around the time the last bottle of chipotle vodka is plucked from the shelves.

Cuchi Cuchi
1 pony Hangar One Chipotle Vodka
1 jigger plain vodka
2 oz Welch’s Passion Fruit Juice
juice of 1/2 lime
club soda

Lightly salt the rim of an Old Fashioned glass (optional). Combine the vodkas, passion fruit juice and lime juice in the glass over ice. Stir to combine. Pour over a float of club soda. Garnish with lime wedge.

Go Mango
1 pony Hangar One Chipotle Vodka
1 jigger reposada tequila
1 pony Cointreau
1 jigger mango nectar
juice of 1/2 lime
several sprigs mint leaves
club soda

Lightly salt the rim of an Old Fashioned glass (optional). In the glass, muddle the mint leaves in the lime juice until lightly bruised. Add ice, then the vodka, tequila and mango nectar. Stir to combine. Pour over a float of club soda. Garnish with mint sprig.

This Post Has 26 Comments
  1. while not much of a fan for chipotle flavours, I’d be quite keen on trying a Habanero or Scotch Bonnet variety of vodka.

  2. My god I adore Chiptole. My immediate reaction was not a cocktail, but to make some sort of drunken shrimp or vodka sauce with it.
    I wonder if I can track that gem down on my coast.

  3. Jesse: Good heavens, if the chipotle is as incendiary as it is, I can only imagine what Scotch Bonnet would be like!
    Umeboshi: I can’t wait to hear what you think about them.
    Jo: Funny you mention. I did in fact use it in cooking, to deglaze a skillet full of pan-roasted veggies for chiles rellenos. It left a nice subtle burn. Vodka sauce is another excellent idea!

  4. Another chipotle fan here.
    I’m thinking Bloody Mary, accented with skewered tomatoes and herby green olives and one fat grilled shrimp. A meal in itself, no?

  5. Garrett: It’s pretty easy to imagine, too. Chipotle. Vodka. Nada mas. Highly recommended.
    Jennifer: Seriously. Have you ever had the bloody marys at the Orbit Room? A meal in a mug, for sure. But for me, tomato juice is the blocker. One of the few things I have a serious aversion to.

  6. Your mango drink with the tequila and vodka combo brought to mind a drink we had at Two a couple weeks ago called the Santeria: “Blood orange-infused El Tesoro tequila is spiced up with a little jalapeno, then shaken with Cointreau, lime, and sugar”
    I wonder, if you could get your hands on blood-orange juice at this late date, if you could work a similar angle.

  7. Nononono! The former Naval Air Station!! Navy! Not Air Force.
    (Whew. Who knew I’d have such a visceral reaction?)
    Anyway. The chipotle sounds really good. Kinda scary. And your cocktail is inspired! Go, man, go.
    Cranky and I infused some vodka with coffee beans once. It really works, but oy, I used too many. Alcohol can really extract flavors.

  8. Anita: Oops! I forgot the Cointreau in the mango drink. Duh. But yes, that sounds about right.
    CC: Oops! Wow, I’ve got a lot of those oopses today. Will correct. And yes, it’s astonishing how intense some infusions can be. When we did peppercorn, we just put a small palmful in about 500 ml, and BAM.

  9. Booyah! That sounds so yummy.
    Andina, a restaurant in Portland, Or, has a wonderful drink with habanero pepper infused vodka shaken with passion fruit puree and cane sugar, served up with a sugar rim and a cilantro leaf garnish. The sugar rim makes all the difference. Try it on the cuchi cuchi!

  10. Jenn: Right on. I leaned toward salt instead of sugar for two reasons: First, playing off the famously compatible combo and pumping up the savory aspects of the drink, and second because I thought, especially with the mango drink, it would run too sweet. (The mango drink really is quite sweet.) Cilantro is a great idea too — I had considered that or basil as an alternative to mint, but DPaul is a bit sensitive to some herbs.

  11. My first reaction when I saw this was one of revulsion – but after thinking it over…if smoky flavor can work well in scotch I suppose it can work in vodka as well.

  12. One of my favorite drinks is a Smoked Martini. You simply add a teensy splash of good whiskey to a very icy vodka martini. I bet this vodka would work well! Perhaps half chipotle and half regular vodka? Hhhmmmmm…. It is Friday, perhaps I have to experiement tonight! Whoopppeeeee!!!

  13. Doug and Kevin both — I think the chipotle vodka and a good peaty scotch have many affinities …. but I think maybe a 2-to-1 regular to spicy proportion would be advisable.

  14. Oh my, that’s a glorious vodka. The Cuchi Cuchi went over quite well last night. Perhaps a little too well, if this morning’s condition was any indication.

  15. sean. I have one bottle of wasabi left. Mr Jon Restaurant-Whore has vowed to sniff it out of its hiding place at my up and coming karaoke party. I will do my damnest to make sure you get some so don’t be late!
    Do you think there is anywhere in town I can get some more of the chipotle without having to trek to the East bay on Saturday? I think it would be a good addition for the partay. Did you buy them out at Plumpjack? Is that the place in the Marina?

  16. Foul temptress! I’ll do everything I can to be there, but we have to be in the east bay in the early part of the evening. We did buy it at Plumpjack on 24th St. I’ll ping them when I get back in town and see if they still have a bottle on hand.

  17. That sounds fabulous, I’m crossing my fingers hoping to find a bottle.
    I think it’d be great in one of my new favorite cocktails, a celery martini.
    Pepper Vodka
    Fresh Celery Juice
    Squeeze of lime
    Touch of salt
    Shaken with ice… amazing.

  18. A cigar bar in my city makes an unbelievably gimlet with this vodka. Just add fresh lime juice and agave nectar and a lot of ice. It tastes like a burrito in a glass and I mean that in a good way.
    A friend of mine made some chipotle-infused vodka with a few chipotles from a can. We were skeptical, but I actually really liked it! The Hangar One version is hard to get your hands on.

  19. I’m amazed a bar still has some in stock — they sold out of the stuff last year. I wasn’t sure whether a home infusion would be good, but am heartened to hear that it worked out. I think I heard somewhere that they’re doing chili pepper vodka this year, which I assume means fresh jalapeno. Or, knowing them and their sadistic ways, habanero.

  20. Love that stuff! I still have a couple bottles of the original chipotle batch, as well as a couple bottles of their first alchemist series, Wasabi!

  21. Martini Amatriciani aka DannyL’s Special Martini……
    Dry and dirty Hanger 1 Chipotole! Ahhhhhhhh!

  22. A local restaurant made their own Chipolte vodka infusion. My mind immediately went to a dirty martini using it, and was rewarded with the best salt/pepper concoction. Yum!

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