Infusing liquor with flavor is a great way to experiment with your own personal tastes, create new cocktails, and make your drinking experience a little more interesting. If you love to experiment and enjoy a DIY project or two, infusions are the perfect way to bring that into your drinks.
Infusions are both fun and limitless. The basic concept of an infusion is to add a single flavor or a combination of flavors to a distilled spirit. It is very easy to do, requiring a little patience and imagination at times. After a few successful experiments, it can become an obsession. Soon, you may be thinking, What can I do next? or What if I...?
Vodka infusions are the most common and the other light liquors (gin, sake, light rum, and tequila) can be used as well. Infusing darker spirits is a little trickier but it will work if you choose the right flavor to complement the liquor. Apricot or cherry brandy and coffee-infused whiskey are great examples that are very useful in cocktails.
Gather Your Supplies
Infusions require a few basic supplies and the infusion jars can be used over and over again. It doesn't require a big investment and it's possible you already have everything you need.
- Herbs, spices, or fruits and vegetables for flavor
- Vodka or any other distilled spirit
- Mason jars, infusion jars, or any airtight jar
- Coffee filter, cheesecloth, or fine mesh strainer
Choose Your Liquor and Flavor
Every infusion begins by choosing your liquor, which will set the foundation. By selecting a decent brand that is smooth and clean, the flavors you add are allowed to shine. The final infusion will only be as good as the liquor you begin with.
If you're experimenting with a new infusion you may want to use a less expensive bottle so as not to waste money or good liquor. When you figure out a great infusion recipe you can always upgrade the liquor in the next batch.
Next, you will need to choose your flavors. Herbs, spices, and fruits are commonly used for infusions. The most popular infusions are fruit based, however, you can use your imagination to create some wonderful combinations with unique ingredients.
For the best results, use fresh ingredients only. Dried herbs and spices are the exceptions and most make nice infusions.
Prepare Your Flavoring Ingredients
Common sense will guide you in preparing many of your infusion ingredients. You want to cut fruits and vegetables so they fit in your jar and remove any undesirable parts. You don't necessarily have to remove skins, but may if you think it's best. For the most part, a few cuts and a good rinse under cold water is all that's needed.
- Berries: Wash and leave whole. Score the skins on harder berries such as cherries.
- Pineapple, Mango, and Similar Fruit: Wash and cut into chunks. Remove pits from stone fruits like apricots. You can skin fruits if you like.
- Strawberries and Citrus Fruit: Wash and slice thinly or use the zests of lemons and oranges (perfect for adding an accent flavor to complex infusions).
- Vanilla Beans: Wash and cut lengthwise. The beans are expensive and you can get away with a single bean but may need to increase the infusion time.
- Herbs: Rinse and use whole (stems and all) because it makes straining them out much easier. Dried herbs can be used as well.
- Peppers: Wash and leave whole or cut in half. Remove the white membrane of hot peppers to reduce the spice as this is where most of the capsaicin lies. To make it easier to strain, remove the seeds as well.
- Garlic: Use whole cloves, removing the layers of skin.
- Choose a clean, airtight jar; quart mason jars work well. Also, you may want to divide your liquor into smaller jars and experiment with a few infusions at one time.
- Wash the ingredients, cut them if needed, place them inside the jar, and fill it with liquor.
- Shake the jar a few times and seal tightly with a lid.
Tip: Place masking tape on each jar to make notes about ingredients, dates, and other customizations so you know what works and what doesn't. Blue painter's tape is great for temporary labels and will not leave a sticky residue on your jars.
Recommended Infusion Times
Store your infusion in a cool, dark place and shake it 3 to 5 times each day for the duration of the infusion. On average, the ingredients should stay in the liquor for 3 to 5 days, though this will vary.
Some of your more intense flavors will only need 3 days; less intense flavors should stay in the jar for a full week or more. Do a taste test regularly to see if the flavors are to your liking.
Use these times as a general guide to gauge how long you may have to leave the ingredients in a jar. Always do a taste test until the infusion has the flavor you want.
- 1 to 2 hours: Hot peppers. Test it often as different peppers infuse faster than others and the spirit can easily become burned and unpalatable.
- 3 to 4 days: Intense flavors such as basil, cinnamon, cucumber (3 days, skinless), dill, garlic, grapefruit, lemon, lime, mild peppers, mint, orange, oregano, tarragon, thyme, and vanilla bean.
- 1 week: Moderate flavors such as apple, blackberry, blueberry, cantaloupe and other melons, cherry, lavender, mango, peach, raspberry, rosemary, and strawberry.
- 2 weeks: Mild flavors such as pineapple, ginger, and lemongrass.
Finish Your Infusion
Once your infusion has reached its peak flavor, you need to remove the flavoring ingredients. Use a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter to strain the liquor into another clean jar or bowl.
You can return the infusion to its original jar or bottle if you like, just make sure to clean it thoroughly first. Store the finished infusion as you would any other liquor. Because this is a straight flavor infusion and you're not adding sugars or other ingredients as you would in a homemade liqueur, it will have the same shelf life as the original liquor.
Infusions to Try
It can be difficult to know where to begin with infusions, but we have plenty of ideas to get you started. For instance, you might try an apple-pear gin or a cocoa-infused rye whiskey. Both are delicious, easy, and can make some very interesting cocktails.
It's also incredibly easy to make your own cinnamon whiskey to replace something like Fireball. Simply place a couple cinnamon stick in a bottle and infuse it for a few days. You'll find it to be much cleaner and more naturally flavored than those cinnamon whiskey liqueurs.
Another idea is to add even more flavor to any store-bought flavored rum or vodka. A great example is to infuse rosemary into a strawberry-flavored rum. You might also try a quick jalapeno infusion in mango rum because this is a natural flavor pairing as well. Just keep in mind that you don't have to start with an unflavored liquor.
These are just the beginning of the possible infusions you can create in your own bar. Let nothing stop you from experimenting and trying out new flavor pairings in any liquor you feel like using. You will have some duds, that's for sure, but when you come across a winner, the discovery can do wonders for your cocktails. Enjoy the process and, most importantly, have fun.
Allow your creative juices to keep flowing as you decide what to do with your new flavored liquor. Try a strawberry-kiwi vodka martini, a lemongrass-grapefruit vodka tonic, or a mint-vanilla bean Moscow mule. The spicier concoctions like garlic-habanero make an unbelievable bloody Mary.