Mouth-Numbing Christmas Vodka


Illustration: Tram Nguyen


Remember that great ‘80s movieA Christmas Story”? About a basketcase of a family trying to make it through the holiday season? I remember it vividly, not least because for a brief, confusing period of my young life, I thought it was a home video.

Don’t get the wrong idea: My family did not resemble Ralphie Parker’s in almost any way. (I obviously had disturbingly terrible facial recognition skills as a small child, because, among other things, there is no girl sibling in this movie. Look, I was not one of those kids anyone ever called precocious.) There were a few similarities, however: My mom, like the mom in the movie, had very curly hair. My dad, like the Parker dad, had some really questionable taste in furniture. And, also like the people in the film, my family found Christmas extremely stressful. It’s an expensive holiday for adults, and we kids were alternately sullen, bratty, greedy, and thrilled at the prospect of goading our parents into an argument. Which we did. As frequently as possible.

The point is, Christmas puts undue strain on even the most semi-functional families. Years later, my family is much more relaxed about Christmas. We’re not together all that often, and we generally enjoy one another’s company when we are. My siblings and I no longer feel the need to needle, provoke, and throw turkey legs at one another to get a little extra attention. There are no more blowout Christmas Eve arguments of which to speak. But there’s still one thing that makes the holiday a little bit weird. We’re all grown adults. There are no children romping around shrieking with joy about Santa and Rudolph and presents. And yet, we can’t quite bring ourselves to break the years-long traditions that have come to mark the day for us. So every year, on Christmas morning, we wake up, troop downstairs, and open presents by the Christmas tree.

We’ve talked about how this is kind of creepy. A bunch of grown-ass adults, surrounded by tinsel, exchanging gifts in the name of Jesus Christ? I dunno, man. Some family members have insisted we put an end to the gift-giving. Others have demanded someone introduce a grandchild into the equation, for the sole purpose of feeling more comfortable with these rituals. Still others (keep in mind we’re a family of five) remain rather broke and could really use those Christmas sweaters. To date, the status quo reigns. And so, this year, I’m giving out a gift that is unobjectionably adult: Vodka infused with Sichuan peppercorns.

I love Sichuan peppercorns. I love how they make your mouth tingle, the spicy, rich aroma they exude when you’re heating them over the flame. I also like the idea of making my family members’ mouths go just a little bit numb on the most stressful holiday of the year. This vodka will do just that, plus it’s deliciously smoky, “artisanal,” incredibly easy to make, and, most critically, it can be spirited upstairs for quick nips during moments of family-related frustration. Um, love you guys, see you soon!!!


Makes 5 gifts

10 cups vodka
10 Tbsp. Sichuan peppercorns
5  16 oz. jars, for bottling 

The ratio here, for those of you who are as bad at math as I am, is 1 cup vodka to 1 tablespoon peppercorns. Pour the vodka and the peppercorns into a glass bottle of some nature and store for 24 hours at room temperature. After a day, strain the peppercorns and rebottle the vodka. You may take a little tablespoon to test the result. Then you may be tempted to take another. All of a sudden, you may find yourself sipping vodka on ice at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday. WATCH OUT.


Serves 6

9 oz. Sichuan peppercorn-infused vodka
24 oz. tomato juice
1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
3/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1 1/2 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
A handful of Sichuan chili peppers, and 6 toothpicks, for garnish

In a large pitcher, mix together all ingredients, save for the Sichuan chili peppers. Serve over ice. Stick a few chili peppers on a toothpick and toss that into the glass as well. (Don’t put it over the top of the glass, as with some garnishes, or your drink won’t get the added spice from the chilis.)

2 Comments Write a comment

  1. i know just what you mean! i have two siblings and we’re all adults now and my sister is the one with the bebes but sometimes her family doesn’t come until the day after Xmas (in-law obligations) and then Xmas morning is not the same… no one runs down to the tree to tear open gifts so we all meander down and make coffee and are like – should we do this now?
    Sichuan peppercorns are the business! I tried a dish with them at Mission Chinese and my mind was blown. Cheeeeers!

Leave a Comment

Required fields are marked *.

+ three = 5