Staring you down from their liquid-filled posts at East Main Street's Capital Ale House are three globular green monsters named Citra, Magnum and Cascade. Do those names sound familiar? You must be a big IPA fan. They’re three varieties of hops, the female seed cone of the hop plant used to flavor beer. Capital Ale, however, is currently infusing the pleasantly bitter, herbal flavor into vodka.
“We’re always trying to do something different, but beer-related. The old beer twist," explains owner Chris Holder. "The vodka infusion is meant to highlight the taste of an individual hop, so people can tell the difference in specific flavors. Citra is a popular hop right now, a standard. We tested several varieties and are offering them with a few [parameters] because the law is pretty strict – we can’t offer a flight, for example, because you can’t have more than two drinks in front of you. But the results were neat; there are some clear differences between flavors. The project is in the beginning stages, but it’s fun.”
Hop vodka cocktails are now par for the course at the restaurant and ale house, and include the Lemon Drop Hop (Cointreau, sugar, sours, lemon), the Citropical-tini (pineapple, vermouth) and the Lavender Hop Tonic (lavender simple syrup, tonic water). Each hop infusion takes between four and seven days to reach saturation and achieve peak flavor potential, which ranges from citrusy to earthy to evergreen, depending. You can also sample the vodkas on their own, if you’re… Russian.
This isn’t the only infusion project going on at Capital Ale’s downtown location, either. Every Thursday, they use a Randall beer infuser to re-flavor Sierra Pale Ale with a single variety of hop.
“It’s a beer that everyone knows, a standard American pale ale that you can close your eyes and know what you’re drinking," says Holder. "It’s not a tired beer by any means — it’s just not new. So we fill up the Randall with a new and different hop, and we run the Sierra Pale through that hop. It’s cool, it’s different. It’s brought the old go-to ale back around.”
So go enjoy some alcohol. It’s OK, it’s science.