It all started with the horseradish vodka Jerry Miller was offered in a Washington, D.C., bar.
"I knew it would go good in a Bloody Mary," he recalls. And as the owner of Homestead's Blue Dust bar, Miller got another idea from the concoction: Begin handcrafting his own liquor infusions for use in cocktails.
Horseradish vodka was just the beginning. Today, Blue Dust offers an ever-rotating list of infusions. Currently you'll find vodkas infused with chai, pickle and pineapple -- as well as a spicy tequila and bacon bourbon.
Flavored vodka has become ubiquitous, of course. But Miller takes pride in his distinctive handcrafted infusions. The chai vodka, for example, enhances an unexpectedly delicious White Russian; the spicy tequila makes a mean margarita.
The infusing process itself is simple: Mix liquor and ingredients, cover, wait and then strain before serving. Infusions can require as little as a day or as long as three weeks for the flavors to set up. The Millers aren't averse to putting in a bit of extra effort, either: The flavor infused in their bourbon often comes from bacon that's been cured, brined and smoked in-house.
And there's no telling where a new flavor may come from. For example, the bacon-flavored bourbon came about because Miller thought the combination "sounded manly." Customers too suggest ideas: Miller's son, Zach, says the best ideas percolate well into the evening: "When it's a couple of co-workers, a couple of regulars, we'll just play around."
Not every attempt is successful. The chai vodka needed many adjustments before it was palatable, and Miller says a Thai chili infusion was "excruciatingly hot." Zach notes the pineapple and chili vodka nearly didn't make the cut. "We had to ramrod it through the old man, because everybody liked it but him."
"This place isn't for wimps," the elder Miller admonishes. But Zach remains diplomatic. "We always make fun of the fruity martinis, but let's face it: If people are going to buy it, we'll make it."