Remember when your grandma -- or great-grandmother -- would preserve summertime fruits and veggies in autumn in order to make them last longer?
Well, think of Franklin Holstein as a hipper version of grandma.
Except he isn't canning pickles to go into any stinkin' salad. Instead, the owner of Earl's Infusion Bar is chopping up super-sour pickles and similarly spicy chili peppers, putting them into top shelf vodka.
Holstein then waits a while, strains the veggies and, voila!, he has a vodka that tastes like a buffet salad bar.
"The Spicy Pickle is our most popular infused vodka drinks," he said at the 419 Pearl St. cocktail lounge. "People love the contrast of the sour and spice."
If you're not in the mood to pucker up, Holstein would recommend something fruity -- like a strawberry and kiwi-infused vodka -- or something totally Zen -- the cucumber and melon-infused vodka is potent enough to give Buddha a buzz.
"Vodka is a neutral alcohol." he explained while behind the bar. "You can add whatever flavor you like to it."
A GROWING TREND IN LARGER MARKETS
According to Holstein, bars focusing on infused drinks have been turning up in bigger cities for more than a decade.
However, Earl's Infusion Bar -- which opened in the 419 Pearl St. location that formerly The Big Snug in October 2019 -- is the only Sioux City lounge to specialize in fruit and veggie-spiked drinks.
"People like what they know," Holstein admitted. "We're trying to open their eyes to new things."
In fact, the online magazine Hospitality Insights said some of 2019's top cocktail trends included adding endive, jackfruit and yuzu to spirits.
While Holstein insisted Earl's Infusion Bar will never be so wacky, he is willing to experiment.
SCIENCE MEETS MIXOLOGY
"The hardest thing about creating flavors is discovering the correct proportion," he said.
For instance, in a mango and jalapeno drink, how much of each ingredient is the perfect amount?
Plus some jalapenos are spicier than others while some fruits are sweeter than others.
"You never know what to expect," Holstein said. "That is, until you try it."
If truth be told, that is also true of Holstein, who is 1) a newcomer to the bar biz and 2) a neophyte of the Midwest.
A ROCKY MOUNTAIN GOLF PRO TURNED INTO A MIDWESTERN BARKEEP
A Boulder, Colorado-based golf pro for more than decade, Holstein moved to Sioux City last year.
"I'm friends with the building's owner," Holstein explained, noting that the owner needed someone to fill the suddenly vacant space.
In case you're wondering, the "Earl" in Earl's Infusion Bar was done in tribute to the owner's grandfather. Similarly, the adjacent 423 Pearl St. space -- most recently, Bootleggers Pizza -- is expected to be turned into a restaurant named after the owner's grandmother, Marvel.
So, how has Siouxland been treating the longtime Coloradoan?
"I like the people, don't mind the weather and love that you don't have traffic jams around here," Holstein said. "It takes forever to go anywhere in Denver or Boulder because of the traffic."
One thing that he definitely misses is the opportunity to hit the golf links.
"I've been too busy to play much golf," Holstein said. "The few times that I've played haven't been good. Golf isn't like riding a bike. Your game does suffer when you don't practice."
That's OK, It gives Holstein more chances to experiment.
TWO DRINKS IN ONE
Perfecting infused vodkas like Berry Cherry, Tropical Fruit and an Apple-Pear-Cinnamon cold weather combo, Holstein has added infused tequilas and beers to his boozy repertoire.
"People do like our loaded beers," he said, making a Blueberry Lemon version which contains both the fruity vodka as well as Blue Moon beer. "You got to be careful though. It's essentially giving folks two drinks in the same glass."
Customers have been clamoring for tequilas that have been fused with such unique ingredients like Pineapple/Chipotle, Strawberry/Margarita and, of course, the always popular Spicy Pickle.
Holstein said whether it is in a vodka or in a tequila, the Spicy Pickle always outpaces the straight-up Pickle.
"People want that contrast between sour and heat," he explained. "That's the key."
Despite that, Holstein is keenly aware of the differences between vodka and tequlilas.
Simply put, vodka is like the tofu of alcohols. It takes on the taste characteristics of whatever you add to it. Infused tequilas taste a heckuva lot like tequila.
Holstein will keep that in mind when he starts infusing gins and bourbons.
"Gins are closer to vodkas in terms of neutral tastes," he reasoned. "Bourbons will be more similar to tequilas."
A BIT OF VARIETY ON THE BLOCK
When Holstein first moved into the former Big Snug, it was also fairly neutral.
Since transforming the space into Earl's Infusion Bar, he's added a friendly bar vibe to it, complete with a pool table and autographed poster of the NAIA Championship-winning Morningside Mustangs.
"I like that every bar on Pearl Street is different than the next," Holstein said. "Nobody is competing for the same crowd."
And who is the natural audience for Earl's?
"We'll draw from a slightly older crowd who is willing to try new things," Holstein said. "We'll probably get a few craft beer fans since infused alcohol is made with small batches that are similar to small batch beers."
AN INFUSION TO A CROWDED MARKETPLACE
So far, the reaction to fun and funky fusion drinks have been positive, Holstein said.
"Each month has been better than the last," he said.
Plus Holstein has plenty of unique fusions to try this winter plus several on the drawing board for spring.
After all, adding some fruits and veggies to your vodka sounds healthy, right?
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