The flavored vodka market appears to have exploded in the past few years. On a recent trip to the spirits shop, there were shelves upon shelves of vodkas in all imaginable flavors. Whipped cream, bacon, and sweet tea were new ones that caught my eye, but not quite my wallet.
Infusing alcohols is an ancient practice. I read recently
of a newly translated Mongolian cookbook dating from 1330, that included a recipe for lamb stew infused vodka. When my husband and I were in China for our honeymoon, on several occasions we were offered a nip from a large glass bottle of grain alcohol, which housed several poisonous snakes. The traditional elixir is thought to have medicinal properties, and held a place of honor in most of the homes we visited. I can't comment on its medicinal effects, but when we finally gave in (impressed?
), it wasn't awful, though had a slightly slippery feel as it went down my throat. And I didn't die.
But snakes and bacon aside, infusing your own spirits is a simple and delicious project, and good skill to have at the ready. A couple of months ago I posted a recipe for DIY Vanilla Extract
, which included instructions for homemade vanilla vodka. I took my own advice and gave a few of these as holiday hostess gifts, and was the belle of the ball. My very first attempt at home infused alcohols was this beautiful recipe for fresh strawberry aquavit liqueur
, from the gorgeous La Cucina Italiana magazine. In both cases I very much appreciated that I was able to use fresh and natural ingredients, that resulted in a far superior flavor, from anything I had tasted from a store.
Your options are almost endless, the procedure is simple and the results impressive. Generally infusing in two to five days, this project is also red carpet worthy
, and great for those soiree invitations when you desperately need inspiration for what to bring.
HOMEMADE INFUSED SPIRITS
EQUIPMENT & INGREDIENTS
Clean glass containers: mason jars, empty wine bottles, apothecary jars, hermetic jars, etc. Just make sure they are very clean and free from any residue or odor of what was in them previously.
Alcohol base: Vodka is most common, primarily due to its somewhat neutral flavor. However, light or dark rum, gin, and tequila also work great. I have tried it with 100 proof vodka, instead of the more common 80 proof, and found the higher alcohol content was too aggressive to experience any of the flavors in any pleasant way. Since you will be flavoring it, and probably experimenting some, I don't think it is necessary to break the bank and buy super high end alcohol, at least until you find a combination you love. But along with that, the better the ingredients, alcohol and flavors, the better the product, and lousy vodka is just going to taste like lousy vodka that's been flavored.
Freshest, and best possible, ingredients: Fresh fruit, fresh herbs and fresh spices are all the best choice, and you will notice the difference. This is not the project to substitute frozen produce, and if you can get items that are in season and at the height of their flavor, all the better for this recipe too. I have used dried fruit in some cases, as a specific choice to go for that flavor, which also ended up working beautifully.
Small kitchen funnel
Fine strainer, lined with cheesecloth
CHOOSE AND PREPARE CONTAINERS.
Thoroughly clean and dry your chosen glass container.
GATHER AND PREPARE YOUR DELICIOUS INGREDIENTS.
Add fruit, spices, herbs or other flavoring ingredients. Use your judgement as to how strong the flavor of the ingredient is for how much you add. A good rule for fresh fruit is to fill the container half way up with the produce and then add liquor to fill the bottle. With herbs, a good handful or two should be plenty. With something strong, like ginger, a three inch piece should be enough for a 750ml bottle. Good quality vanilla beans should work with about four. You can always add more of the ingredients after a few days if you want a more pronounced flavor. Remember to cut the pieces small if you are using a small necked bottle, so you can remove them eventually and to give you more surface area in general, and know that they will expand as they soak up the alcohol. Peel fruit if you wouldn't generally eat the peel (i.e. mangoes and melons), with the exception of citrus, which have loads of very flavorful oils in their skin.
JUST ADD ALCOHOL.
Fill the rest of the container with the alcohol.
Cover or cork the container, and allow it to sit and infuse for two to five days, in a cool place out of direct sunlight. This can be in the refrigerator, or simply on your counter, just not next to your stove. Occasionally tip the bottle gently to redistribute the alcohol. The longer you leave it, the more prominent the flavor, but it will level off eventually.
When it has infused to your liking, you can strain it and transfer to smaller, prettier bottles. Most produce will breakdown and discolor eventually, so for gift giving or aesthetics, you may want to do this step. It is less necessary with vanilla beans, ginger, cinnamon, and spices.
STORE & SERVE
Store in a cool place, where you would other alcohol. It should keep for about a year.
First, make sure all of your containers and ingredients are thoroughly cleaned. The high alcohol content should inhibit harmful bacteria from growing, but if at any point the concoction has an "off" smell, or starts to rapidly discolor or get cloudy, err on the side of caution and discard it.
- CITRUS: lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, and tangerines. But also meyer lemons and blood oranges, which are in season right now.
- VANILLA: About four whole vanilla beans, split down the middle. This is also wonderful with light rum.
- HERBS: Thai Basil, Lemongrass, Mint, Rosemary, Lemon Verbena, Dill, Cilantro
- FRUIT: Mango, Melon, Concord Grape, Berries, Cranberries (fresh or dried), Peaches, Pineapple, Apricot (fresh or dried), Pomegranate, Pear
- ESPRESSO BEANS
- SPICES: Use whole, not ground, spices. Cinnamon sticks, Dried Chili Peppers, Peppercorns, Star Anise, Cardamom, Cumin
- VEGETABLES: Fresh Ginger, Hot Peppers (great in tequila too), Fennel, Olives, Horseradish, Cucumber
- FUN EXPERIMENTS: Bubble Gum, Jolly Ranchers, Werther's Butterscotch, Atomic Fireballs
- LEMON + HONEY: Add 1/2 cup of honey to a 750 ml bottle.
- LEMON GRASS + GINGER: A few bruised stalks of lemongrass and a three inch sliced piece of ginger, for a bright southeast Asian inspired infusion
- FIG + CARDAMOM: An inspired combination that Marcus Samuelsson uses for Aquavit at his restaurant of the same name.
- APPLE + CINNAMON: 3-4 peeled and sliced apples with 2 cinnamon sticks
- FENNEL + ORANGE
- VANILLA + ESPRESSO
- VANILLA + ORANGE
- CUCUMBER + LEMON
- CUCUMBER + MELON
Have some great flavor ideas? I'd love to hear them in the comments!
Pomegranate, Dried Apricot, and Cranberry Vodkas.
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