Alcohol can be infused with virtually any flavor you can imagine. Fruit, jalapeno, bacon – you name it, they can all be used to spice up your spirits. Sometimes those flavors are spectacular, and sometimes they're spectacular failures. Done right, they're creative additions to a home mixologist's repertoire.
Best of all, while there are tons crowding the shelves at your local liquor store, you can make them at home. And, especially with the holidays coming up, they're uber-impressive as guests belly up to the bar for the house cocktail made from your own infused spirits.
Some of the most famous spirits, from absinthe to gin, are infused liquors. Infusing generally involves placing ingredients in a container with a spirit for a given amount of time to allow it to extract the essential oils and compounds that carry the flavors. It's actually a relatively quick and easy process. Alcohol naturally pulls these compounds from ingredients. However, making your own infused spirits isn't quite as simple as dumping a pile of whatever fruits/meat/spices you want into a bottle of hooch. There are a few rules to keep in mind.
1) Use quality booze – Sure, you could use a bottle of the evil that man wreaks upon his fellow man, but the worst qualities of the base spirit become that much more glaring during the infusion process, especially when working with subtle flavors like tea or lavender. That $5.99 fifth belongs on the rail at a dive bar, or possibly on trial for crimes against humanity at The Hague, not in your house-infused booze.
2) Less is more – Common sense says that if a little pineapple is tasty, a whole lot would be crazy delicious. The temptation will be there to put in as much of whatever ingredient you're working with as humanly possible. Don't. Not only will those flavors be overpowering and completely ruin whatever the subtleties of the liquor, but, if you're using fruit, it often absorbs a significant amount of the liquid in trade for its own essence. Too much of this is bad. You're looking for tasty infused spirits, not mildly boozy fruit juice, after all.
3) Have fun with it – Figuring out flavors isn't just a thought process, it's also good times. Obviously you don't want to waste liquor. That's one of the more heinous crimes against cocktail culture that you can commit, but you'll have to experiment a bit to find what works for you.
To get you started making your o,wn and help you learn some of the techniques you'll need, we've included some recipes to get started with. If you get through these and feel like you're ready for the advanced class, head for Google and type in “Skittles infused vodka.”
While you can get pineapple vodka off of a liquor store shelf, there's a night and day difference if you make your own. Homemade pineapple-infused vodka is brighter, with much sharper pineapple notes and, best of all, no off-putting chemical aftertaste. It makes a tasty twist on a martini that'll remind you of summer months gone by and it matches up nicely with tonic, or even Sprite. Making your own is simple. You'll need:
-2 cups fresh pineapple
-750mL bottle of quality vodka
-Clean container/pitcher with tight lid large enough to hold the pineapple and the vodka
-Fine mesh strainer
-Coffee filters (optional)
To infuse the vodka, cut the pineapple into large chunks and place in the bottom of the container. Pour the vodka over the pineapple and allow it to steep for approximately three days. Longer than that and there are chemical compounds in pineapple that will leech out and turn your delicious liquor into a vile swampy mess. When it's ready, strain the vodka. It'll be a bit cloudy, but if you line a strainer with coffee filters you'll be left with something that looks just like vodka and tastes like a Caribbean vacation.
Bacon makes everything better. That includes alcohol, especially bourbon, which pairs incredibly well with cured pork. The caramel undercurrents act like maple syrup and match up nicely with the richness and smoke of the bacon while the whiskey's spice brings it all together. It's a nice winter treat – the warmth of the bourbon and smoky bacon going a long way toward making a mug of hot chocolate like manna from heaven. To put your own bottle together you'll need:
-750 mL bottle of good bourbon
-A pitcher with a wide mouth
-Fine mesh strainer
Start by frying or baking the bacon and reserve all of the grease. Unless you're a fan of bourbon that tastes like charcoal, don't burn it. Strain the grease and allow it to cool. Once cool, pour it into the pitcher with the bourbon and give the mixture a good stir. Put the whole mess into the freezer for a few hours or overnight and pass the time by chowing down on your pound of cooked bacon. When cold, the grease will float to the top and form a solid cap on the liquid. Pull the solids out and discard, then strain the liquid. It'll keep in the fridge for about two to three weeks. You can use this same process on tequila, which makes for a spectacular variation on a Bloody Mary.
With the cold weather upon us and the sun rapidly becoming a distant memory, coffee is one of the things keeping society from devolving into a shambling mess. Since it already improves everyone's day, why not use it to improve our drinks as well? Coffee matches up perfectly to the molasses and spice of a good dark rum. It fits amazingly well in many classic tiki drinks, but it's even better when dropped into a little Baileys.
-750mL aged rum (Botran Reserva fits nicely, bringing sweetness to match the bitter coffee)
-.5 cup coarse ground espresso beans
-Fine mesh strainer or colander with cheesecloth
Pour the rum into the pitcher and add the coffee (put them in a tea ball or bag). The alcohol will draw flavor and color from the leaves very quickly so 15 minutes is more than enough to draw out all of the flavor you need. Any more than that and the rum will become too bitter. Strain the mixture and add it back into the bottle for use.