For a time when the popularity of all kinds of flavored liquors is growing, very few places are preparing true infusions: the kind made with fresh fruits and vegetables, providing a far richer taste than even the best artificial flavors.
Downtown-Asheville fixture The Frog Bar (upstairs from Flying Frog Café) is a welcome exception. There, intrepid cocktail lovers will find an array of large glass containers, each with a colorful infusion, like cucumber/lime/rosewater gin or habanero tequila.
The infusions are made by chef Vijay Shastri, and can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks to prepare.
“I wanted to do something different—though infusions aren’t exactly new,” Shastri says of his reasons for making infusions a Frog Bar mainstay. “They taste real. If this is something people want, we want to give them a better-quality product. You should be here to offer something you can’t get anywhere else.”
It takes special care with the fruits and vegetables to get the infusions right, he adds. “Some of them have to be cut down to release the flavor. You taste these things routinely, every day. When it gets right, you strain [the mixture].”
By law, the recipe for each infusion must be submitted to the local Alcohol Beverage Control board. “It has to be broken down scientifically,” Shastri says. “They want all the details.”
One of his favorite infusions (and one of the bar’s most popular) is the aforementioned gin. It has a refreshing, clean feel with a perfect aftertaste—by itself or with tonic. A newly added French butter-caramel rum has also been well-received: Shastri says it’s a perfect replacement for vodka in creamier drinks like White Russians. And the mojito rum (“It goes fast—several gallons a week,” Shastri notes), when mixed into a strawberry mojito, complements the drink’s minty flavor perfectly.
Despite the work that goes into the infusions, the bar charges only as much as it would for a well drink, so most of the infused cocktails cost $5.50 (or $7.50 for a double).
The combination of taste, quality and affordability make the Frog’s infusions one of the best all-around drink deals in Asheville.
The Frog Bar is located at 1 Battery Park Ave. For more information, call 254-9411.