Cocktail Chatter - Infusion Confusion

The best thing about infused liquor is how easy it is to make. The second best thing is how impressed people are when you make it. “Ooh,” they’ll swoon, “How did you ever come up with this wondrous cherry-infused vodka recipe?”

What I’ll do is stick some cherries in some vodka and wait a couple days. But what I’ll say is “Oh, that’s my secret recipe. Just enjoy your beverage!”

Should you want to get started making infusions (and impressing your friends), simply pick a flavor, pick a spirit, and combine the two. For the spirit, vodka is the most neutral and allows whatever you infuse to shine through, but any other spirit will work too. I’ve infused gin, rum, tequila, and whisky with different fruit, vegetables, herbs, and spices; all to good effect. If you want more flavor to come out of the material faster, use a higher proof spirit like Skyy 90 or Absolut 100, both of which are stronger than standard 80 proof vodkas.

You can infuse almost anything edible into alcohol, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Some of the ingredients that give up flavor the fastest include dried herbs and spices and anything hot and spicy like peppers and horseradish. Fresh herbs, flowers, and grassy and delicate produce can also start to taste like dead vegetation quickly and must be carefully monitored. Slower going are infusions of citrus peels and non-juicy fruits and vegetables.

Use organic produce when possible and thoroughly wash everything first. Remove anything that has a bitter taste such as the white pith of citrus peel, stems of mint, cucumber skins, and anything woody like pits or seeds. Select a container made of glass, with a tight-fitting lid, that’s not much larger than you’ll need so there’s not a lot of air in the jar.

Test the infusion each day to see when it’s done. Spices and peppery infusions are finished when the flavor is intense enough, which may take a few hours to two days. (You can always dilute it with more vodka if it comes out too hot.) Fresh ingredients should be removed at the first sign of losing freshness, which may take a day up to a couple weeks. Strain out the solids and store your infusion in the refrigerator to make it last longer.

But where to start? Think of a cocktail you want to flavor and infuse the base spirit with an added ingredient. Some suggestions are the Basil Gimlet, Lemon and Lime Drop, Orange Cosmopolitan, Strawberry Mojito, or a Wasabi Bloody Mary.

Practice with a small infusion jar first, then make a bigger batch when you’ve got the timing down. A bottle of infused vodka makes a great party gift - everyone loves homemade secret recipes. Just don’t share the secret about how easy these are to make.

Camper English is a cocktails and spirits writer and publisher of Alcademics.com.

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