Infusing vodkas with the flavors of summer has become a passionate hobby among folks who like to play with their liquor.

Imagine what local bartenders could do, challenged with a bottle or two of High Proof Spirit from Northern Maine Distilling Co.

How about a cold-smoked corn and horseradish cocktail? Or a Cajun-seasoned grilled okra infusion?

You can taste these creations and more Wednesday at a bar-hopping benefit in Portland that’s being called an “Infusathon.” Bartenders from more than a half-dozen restaurants are being asked to come up with a specialty cocktail infusion that will be paired with a bite from the restaurant’s chef.

The cold-smoked corn and horseradish cocktail, a creation of the Salt Exchange, will be paired with a sip of gazpacho. The okra-infused cocktail comes from David’s and will be paired with a housemade chicken andouille sausage with gumbo sauce.

Other participating restaurants include Sonny’s, the Grill Room, Nosh and the Armory Lounge. Bartenders from Blue Sky in York and the Blue Spoon on Portland’s East End are also expected to be there.

The event is a fundraiser for the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, and the entire $15 ticket price will be donated to that organization to help with relief efforts from this spring’s flooding and tornadoes.

Ticket holders start at Sonny’s, where they will be age-checked and receive tickets to use at the other restaurants. The venues can be visited in any order, and once you’re done, you can vote for your favorite. By the end of the 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. event, Portland will crown an “Infusion Champion.”

High Proof Spirit, which is made in Houlton, is a corn-based spirit distilled in small batches to 160 proof (80 percent alcohol by volume). Its high ethanol content makes it ideal for doing quick infusions with strong flavors, but in Maine it can be sold only to licensed bars and restaurants.

“Traditionally, with vodka, people will let (an infusion) sit for two to three weeks on end,” said Scott Galbiati of the Northern Maine Distilling Co.

With High Proof Spirit, the process is whittled down to hours, making it easier to experiment with different flavor combinations. And it doesn’t take any fancy equipment — Galbiati is constantly making new infusions in Mason jars.

Galbiati has made infusions with everything from dark chocolate to gorgonzola. He’s tried passion fruit, pink peppercorns, bacon and blackberries. He’s even experimented with butter and smoked sardines. (To see all of his experiments, go to highproofspirit.com.)

Some infusions that he thought would work well, such as watermelon, were disappointing.

“It was more interesting to look at than to taste,” Galbiati said. “I think I was aiming for (Jolly Ranchers). It most certainly tasted like watermelon, but not nearly the burst of just vibrant watermelon that I was hoping for, that I can achieve when I do my limoncellos or my strawberry, one of my favorites as well in terms of flavor and color and richness. ‘Smuckers in a jar’ is the way I describe it to people when we’re trying it.”

Others infusions that might sound strange have turned out to be surprisingly good. Would you try a glass of seasoned rotisserie chicken?

“It tastes like walking past the rotisserie in the deli,” Galbiati said. “It’s salty, it’s a little oily, it’s sweet. It really does demonstrate how far out there you can take it.”

But Galbiati knows that different people have different tastes, and that’s why he’s looking forward to the Infusathon. Instead of guessing what flavors people will like, he wants to see what the bartenders can come up with on their own.

“We call ourselves ‘canvas makers,’” he said. “We like to hand the canvas over to you, and then you as the artist can paint any picture you want.”

And then drink it.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]