How to Infuse Vodka and Other Liquors
For the past few years, infused liquors have been making their presence felt throughout the drinking world, showing up in reimagined versions of traditional cocktails, as well as headlining their own new classics.
Indeed, there are over 70 different varieties of flavored spirits out there, running the gamut from vodkas to bourbons. And their popularity doesn’t seem to be waning.
In that vein, we asked local infusion artist, Crystal Park, who recently opened Cray Eatery & Drinkery in order to showcase the several infused liquors she’s developed over the years, what it takes to turn regular old liquor into something fabulous and tasty.
Her first piece of advice: be creative. The fun you can have coming up with flavors not already on the market is one of the biggest draws of home infusing. Just about anything can be used for infusion, so one is only limited by one’s imagination.
Which is not to say one should try infusing, say, the flavor of dirty socks or earwax, into anything, ever, but unexpected tastes, like pickles, smoked ginger, and even bacon, work brilliantly.
The key is to learn the right amount of time each ingredient needs to infuse the liquor at hand. The liquor used is negligible, with little difference between how clear and brown liquors interact with any given infusing agent.
It’s as Park says: “You want to approach infusing like you would cooking. Essentially, they’re the same thing; you have to be a chef with liquor, and the same practices you employ in the kitchen, like tasting as you go, are the same you’d use when infusing.”
So, for more potent ingredients, like garlic, which one would only using in sparing amounts while cooking, the infusion time is shorter than it would be for other vegetables, like shallots, which can sit for longer periods of time.
There is always a concern for rancidity as well, so the home experimenter should be mindful of the shelf life of his ingredients as well. Fresh fruit should be screened after a few days because they can go bad and impart a slightly rotten taste to your final product.
Herbs require a bit of finesse, because milder herbs, like tarragon and basil, will need longer infusion times than stronger ones, like rosemary or thyme. The same holds for spices, which should only be used in its whole form, whether bark or seeds.
The most important thing to remember though when you begin infusing your own liquors is to have patience. Like most inventions, trial and error is central to the process. Not all combinations will be winners, and you have to be willing and able to accept that.
It’s why it’s a good idea to use cheap liquor when you begin infusing at home. This ensures that if a batch has to be thrown out, it’s not of the good stuff. Or you can use mason jars, but note that if you do, you should be also good at math so the final balance of the product remains consistent.
And the drink possibilities are endless with the introduction of infused liquors. The Bloody Mary gets a creative twist with pickled pepper vodka, a Dark ‘n’ Stormy truly wicked with clove spiked rum, and a Moscow Mule becomes newly addictive with the addition of wasabi gin.
Cocktail hour may not be observed every day where you live, but maybe it should be. If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, what does a martini a day do? And one that’s different every single time?
All photos by Ayana Wilson.
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