Infusing alcohols is one of the easiest ways to show off. Boxed mac & cheese requires more work, but if you hand a lush a bottle of “hand-infused” vodka and a bowl of boxed noodles, which do you think will be more appreciated? The work comes more from a willingness to experiment and learn through trial-and-error than any kind of research or culinary expertise.
Fruits, vegetables & herbs or spices are fairly straightforward. I prefer to make small batches rather than use an entire fifth just in case my trial ends in error. Put your flavor in a wide-mouth jar/bottle/glass with a lid (looking at the above bottles, you can see I just eyeballed the amount) and taste-test it once per day until you have the flavor you want. Then strain it through a coffee filter. Refrigerate it or don’t. Liquor doesn’t last long enough in my home to necessitate preservation steps.
When you use a flavor, think about where the flavor lives. In the case of the satsuma tequila, I shaved as much zest off of the rind as possible to prevent the pith flavor from taking over (learned this through trial-and-error, so don’t fear failure– just put it in a cocktail to mask the bitterness). For the jalapeño-garlic vodka, I chopped up the jalapeño, removed MOST of the seeds (not everyone in this household has a refined heat tolerance) and basically scored the garlic with a knife. Maybe you want more garlic flavor and would smash it open. This was amazing in a Thanksgiving Bloody Mary, by the way. The Szechwan peppers I just smashed up a bit. From what I remember, the above three took about 4 or 5 days to get the flavor I wanted. I once made habanero vodka, which took A day to absorb more than enough heat (and was delicious muddled with some cilantro and shaken with ice and pineapple juice).
Some flavors are going to work a bit different. I used crushed candy cane as a flavor for Christmas presents and it just dissolved like a vodka Kool-Aid mix, no filtering necessary. Not all infusions taste great straight-up, but this one sure did.
Teas make great infusions and like candy canes, do not require filtration (assuming they’re bagged). I made a Russian Earl with the above and some half-and-half. Now I want to make a Vodka London Fog. A Moscow Fog? The Boston Round bottles I store these in are great for gifting, but not great for the actual infusion process (remember, you have to get the excess stuff OUT, so wide-mouth jar).
If you’re not big on hard alcohol, I have been known to teabag my wine. 2-Buck Chuck and some Pomegranate White Tea and I am a cheap date.
Here is another tip for you based off of my own mistakes: don’t put your fusing vodka in a glass next to your water or you will be in for a very confusing surprise. I use vodka fairly often for infusing for obvious reasons (it’s flavorless, if those reasons are not obvious to you). Tequila works pretty well, assuming you don’t associate the taste with rough college nights. I tried infusing whiskey once and watched my dad literally spit it out and then apologize profusely. In case you were wondering, it was a maraschino cherry whisky I was hoping to use for Manhattans. Sometimes things just don’t work.
So that’s just my own experience with infusions. Often, when I’m asked how I make them, folks are surprised at how easy it is. If you want to be more than an infusing novice, Imbibe Magazine and serious eats have some more tips.
I’d love to hear your ideas on vodka infusions or trials. I’m always up for trying a new cocktail!
I spent some time up north last week, visiting friends & family in Seattle and caught this great view of Mt. Rainier on my flight home. Not exactly related to this post, but I wanted to share.