When I think of my childhood summers in the Pacific Northwest, I remember never-ending days outside, playing make-believe for hours on end, building forts in the woods (this is before we thought we’d get murdered there), scream-running through sprinklers, and roller skating. Lots and lots of roller skating.

And those days always involved foraging and scarfing down fresh fruit. Much of it found on our daily adventures. Blackberries on the side of the road, too tart apples plucked from trees prematurely, big fat blueberries confiscated from a neighbor’s backyard, and buckets of Rainier cherries that we risked life and limb for on our treacherous climbs up thick, scraggly branches. I have such delicious memories, and a nice collection of scars that remind me of a time I was equal parts brave, crazy and a little dumb with youth.

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It’s no wonder a couple of PNW natives have come up with a way to take advantage of this area’s abundant supply of gorgeous fruit and…infuse it in BOOZE.

Wild Roots Distillery has a pretty extensive line of infused vodkas, all using ingredients found in Oregon’s Willamette Valley – an area mostly known for producing excellent Pinot Noir wine. Turns out that rich soil and amiable climate is also pretty ideal for growing fruit.

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I recently got to try two of these beauties from their collection – The Northwest Pear Vodka and The Marionberry Vodka. Soon after, I found out that the two I picked to sample were both winners at the recent Seattle International Spirits Awards just this past month. Like the best blackberry bushes in the neighborhood back in the day, I still know how to pick ’em!

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I found The Marionberry Infused Vodka initially pretty rich and sweet but not in a treacly sense. Both bottles I tried had the aroma of real, fresh fruit. And on the palate this was the case as well. Wild Roots’ aim is to be an antidote to the fake flavored vodkas glutting the market. Keeping it all natural has been an important part of their story. And the resulting product reflects that. Apparently 2 pounds of berries go into each bottle!

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Because of the sweetness level and the tart berry finish, this is a fun one to mix with and not a lot of ingredients are necessary for a well-balanced cocktail. I found this worked beautifully as a simple fizz type drink. I could also see this in place of Cassis in a Kir Royale type sparkler…

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Marionberry Fizz
2 oz Wild Roots Marionberry Infused Vodka
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Simple Syrup
1-2 oz Club Soda

Shake all ingredients except club soda over ice until well chilled. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Top with soda and stir. Garnish with berries.

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Of the two Wild Roots Vodkas that I tried, I think the Pear Infused Vodka might have been my favorite. The aroma is bright and fresh and decidedly PEAR. And it is very much that on the palate, with a slight floral quality. This could also be lovely in a fall cocktail with a little baking spices to warm it up.

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Since I’ve had summer on the mind, I made something light and refreshing, however. Again, because of the slight sweetness to this spirit, it doesn’t need the addition of much sugar.

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I initially made a Pear Martini and loved the simplicity of that drink. But I came to the conclusion that a Vesper – James Bond’s second most favorite cocktail – would kick this up a notch. The addition of an aromatic gin and herbaceous Cocchi Americano actually brought out the complex pear flavors in this so much more. Bring on the Northwest summers!

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Northwest Pear Vesper
1 1/2 oz Wild Roots Pear Infused Vodka
1/2 oz Gin
1 oz Cocchi Americano

Add all ingredients to an ice-filled mixing glass and stir until diluted. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with pear slices.

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