Infusing liquors with different fruits and spices can make cocktails range from lightly refreshing to rich and exotic. True infusions are not just made by adding fruit juice but are delicate mixtures that need to complement and not overpower the spirit’s flavor. And most of all, these drinks are not just limited to vodka — you can infuse any spirit, including liqueurs.
Gin, for instance, ranges from 36 to 50 percent pure alcohol by volume, and its flavor primarily comes from the mixture of juniper berries and a variety of other aromatic botanicals. Vodka on the other hand, which is a mixture of pure alcohol and water, is a favorite for infusions because it provides a clean slate. Added fruits and aromatics make subtle changes in flavor for easy and fun experiments.
The rich dark flavor profile of whiskey calls for deep flavors like cocoa beans. However, apples, pineapple, and figs pair well, too, and let’s not forget raisins.
Fresh ginger will pair with bourbon whiskey and rum, while tequila marries well with fresh lemongrass, orange, or grapefruit peels. If you like your tequila on the peppery side, crush some black peppercorns and add them to the mix.
The combinations are virtually endless depending on how restricted your pallet and daring your will. A large investment is not necessary; often the needed items are already in your home. Basic supplies include herbs, spices, or fruits and vegetables for flavor; distilled spirits; Mason jars, infusion jars, or similar airtight jars; coffee filters, cheesecloth, or a fine mesh strainer; and a funnel.
Infusion jars can be used over and over again, and widemouthed works best. Some ingredients, like cinnamon sticks and raisins, will expand as they soak up the liquid, so trying to remove them through the narrow neck of a liquor bottle is nearly impossible. However, liquor bottles can be recycled to hold the completed infusion after the ingredients are removed.
A 750 milliliter bottle of liquor is just under 1 quart (25.4 ounces). To infuse an entire bottle, a 1-quart (32-ounce) jar will leave room for your ingredients. Or a 2-liter widemouth jar will leave plenty of room for large amounts of ingredients.
Apple and Pear Infused Gin
Gin is not often infused because it already has a lot of flavors. However, sometimes even gin could use a little flavor tweak. Yield: 1 bottle (16 shots)
1 (750 milliliter) bottle gin (premium)
4 red apples, sliced
1 pear (red is recommended), sliced
1/4 pound pears, dried
Place all pears and apples in the bottom of a clean jar. Pour the gin over the fruit and shake a few times. Seal the lid tight and store in a cool, dark place for about one week. Test the flavor of the infusion daily. Once the flavor is to taste, strain the fruits from the gin. Wash the jar and return the flavored gin to it. Store as you do other liquors.
Start with a quality rye whiskey — Old Overholt is a favorite — and you will find that the spiciness of rye is a great backdrop for sweet chocolate. Nearly any whiskey will work for the infusion, though, so experiment with a few brands and styles to see which you prefer. The chocolaty flavor comes from a three-day infusion of cocoa nibs. Cocoa nibs, roasted or chocolate-covered, are lightly processed beans that are now relatively easy to find. The second chocolate element is a few dashes of Xocolatl Mole Bitters from Bittermens, which adds a sweet and spicy touch that works wonderfully with the drink. Unlike other chocolate drinks, this is not sweet. Instead, it’s nicely balanced and may transform your thoughts of how chocolate can affect a libation. Yield: 1 cocktail (1 serving)
1 (750 milliliter) bottle rye whiskey (Old Overholt recommended)
1/4 cup cocoa nibs
In an infusion jar, add cocoa nibs and fill the jar with rye whiskey. Shake well and allow the infusion to set for three days or until you get a nice, balanced flavor. Once it reaches the desired flavor intensity, strain out the nibs and rebottle the whiskey. It can be stored like any other whiskey.
1 brandied cherry
1/2 orange slice
1/2 ounce demerara syrup
3 dashes mole bitters (Bittermens Xocolatl Mole)
2 1/2 ounces chocolate-infused rye whiskey
In an Old-Fashioned glass, add the brandied cherry, orange slice, demerara syrup, and mole bitters, and muddle well. Fill the glass with ice and add the infused whiskey. Stir lightly, serve, and enjoy!
Variation: As an alternative to a brandied cherry, muddle a fresh cherry or a real maraschino, such as those made by Luxardo. Avoid the bright red maraschinos as they are artificially dyed and flavored after bleaching.