Sunday, February 9, 2014

If it has vodka, it must be Russian

This cocktail, with its exotic name and sweet, spicy and smoky sip-ability, is an intriguing way to enhance your Sochi Olympics viewing experiences.  Constructed of bourbon, lapsang souchong-infused vodka, elderflower liqueur, spiced tea, honey and lemon juice, this cocktail is seriously tasty.

The original Russian Caravan cocktail was created by Vitaliy Bukhtulov, a home mixologist who competed in and won the 2010 Brandy Library's Bourbon Cocktail Challenge. Since then, another version has been posted on

Looking at both recipes, I didn't have everything called for: Russian Caravan Tea by Choice Organic Teas (as listed in Mr. Bukhtulov's recipe) or Russian Tea (as listed in the Saveur version). I wasn't sure what "Russian Tea" was except for my experiences with the intensely sweet, orange Tang-based version that my mother made countless jars of during my childhood for Christmas gifts to friends. In case you're curious about this sugary, retro instant hot drink recipe, find it here.

But after doing a little research, I discovered that I could approximate Russian Caravan Tea because I had infused some vodka last year with lapsang souchong tea.  And if a cocktail has vodka in it, it must be Russian, right?  I also had Constant Comment Tea on hand, which would capture the spice character of the Russian Tea of my childhood, without the sugary, synthetic orange aftertaste.

You need to know that true Russian Caravan tea is a blend of several black teas, at least one of which is smoky, and which tastes sweet and malty when brewed. Since my recent mixology experiment, I've ordered some of the same tea that Mr. Bukhtulov recommends and plan to remix the drink to the specifications of his original recipe, which includes St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur.

Using the recipe as my guide, I brewed 2 cups of hot water with one Constant Comment teabag for 2 minutes.  I used a Texas-produced bourbon, highly recommended by my wine guy, Bill, at my local Spec's.  Fresh lemon juice and lemon peel are a must of course, but you can be creative with the sweetener.  I used coriander honey because of the bright, citrusy and smoky characteristics it has.  But you could do a rich simple syrup, or use agave nectar, or use any honey you have in the pantry.  I didn't top my cocktail off with club soda, as called for in both recipes, but you certainly can.  Having made the drink both with the elderflower liqueur and without, I can tell you that both versions are lovely.

Vindaloo's Russian Caravan Cocktail

1 cup ice
2 oz. bourbon
2 oz. Constant Comment tea (steep 2 cups hots water with one teabag for 2 minutes)
1/2 oz. lapsang souchong-infused vodka
1/2 oz. St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz. coriander honey (or substitute another kind of honey, rich simple syrup or agave nectar)
strip of lemon peel for garnish

Combine ice, bourbon, tea, vodka, liqueur and lemon juice in a shaker and shake for a few seconds to combine.  Pour into a highball glass and garnish with lemon peel.  Makes 1 cocktail.