I like to kick off my dinner parties with a celebratory elixir. Before tucking into any food or wine, I serve my guests shot glasses filled with a luminous green spirit. It’s really more chartreuse in color, with a viscosity less than that of syrup, but slightly thicker than water. We toast the trees.
The drink is chilled vodka infused with the fresh spring growth of our most distinguished elder in the Pacific Northwest, the Douglas fir. It’s cool and spicy and bright with resinous energy. Like dried mushrooms or freshly cut stinging nettles, the aroma is a powerful distillation of the woods themselves. Quaffing it down in a single gulp is like inhaling the rain forest.
I’ve had a similar treat at The Herbfarm restaurant in Woodinville. That version is even more refined than my own, being colorless and served in a small vial, a subtle invocation of the forest suitable for splashing into a glass of prosecco for a very local aperitif.
Making an extraction from Douglas fir needles—or spruce, which is even more pungent—couldn’t be easier. Look for the tender new growth in the spring. These are called “tips.” The fir or spruce tips will be a lighter shade of green than the rest of the needles, and much softer. Nip off the inch-long tip and repeat. A single good tree with branches within reach and sweeping the ground like the hem of a long skirt will fit the bill. You can find such Douglas firs right in Seattle or take a purposeful hike outside the city. For spruce tips, you’ll want to look for either Sitka spruce on the fog-shrouded coast or Engelmann spruce in the Cascades. Keep in mind that the timing of new spring growth will depend on elevation and microclimate. Last year, I harvested my fir tips in early May on the lower flanks of Tiger Mountain.
Douglas Fir–infused Vodka
A fifth of vodka (750 milliliters)
1 cup Douglas fir or spruce tips
(tender new growth)
» Rinse tips and combine with of the vodka in a blender on high for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture is fairly smooth. Pour the mixture into a quart-size jar.
» Add remaining vodka to the blender, swirling around to capture residue before mixing, and add to jar. Seal the jar, shake well and refrigerate for as long as a week.
» Next, strain the fir-infused vodka, first through a fine-mesh wire strainer, then again through the same strainer lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Store in freezer, where the fir-infused vodka will last a year or longer.
To infuse a fifth of vodka (see preparation instructions above) you’ll want a cup of tips for the process of blending and straining.
For maximum clarity—and a lighter, more ethereal color—you can strain through a cheesecloth or a coffee filter. My friend Andrew MacMillan, an experienced hand at wild liqueurs and tinctures, recommends the coffee filter approach for those with patience: “The last step may take several hours,” he told me, “but the end result is totally clean.”
Indeed. It’s a perfect salute to the Evergreen State and our natural heritage. I keep a bottle of Douglas fir–infused vodka on hand in the freezer at all times, for when the company or situation demands a shot of what sustains us.