Infusing alcohol is a great way to experiment with new flavors in your cocktails and add something exciting to your drinks. It is a great way to get more hands on with your home bar, and add a fun step to the process of creating drinks.
Infusing, or maceration, simply entails taking an alcohol and imbuing it with any number of herbs, berries or other flavors. It is an impressive but simple undertaking, since the alcohol pretty much does the work for you. All you need is a little creativity, boldness, and some time for the alcohol to do its work.
You do also need a few tools to help you along with your alchemy project. However, the tools that are absolutely necessary to infuse are not difficult to find at all
Blender – Definitely not necessary to making beautifully infused alcohol. However, a blender can be a handy tool to infuse on the spot without having to wait for the alcohol to strip away all the flavor from the ingredients. Using a blender for infusion resembles the process of making a smoothie. You will want to combine your ingredients at a high speed and then strain well. Leaving little to no time for steeping.
This is probably the most challenging question to answer when setting out to infuse. Though there are a few general categories of your own tastes/preferences, your materials (i.e. spirit and infusion bodies) and some creativity!
Typically, Infusions are done with neutral tasting alcohols, the prototype being, Vodka. However you can infuse anything that is alcoholic (even everclear to make bitters--which we will discuss later). However, the more complicated the flavor of your spirit of choice, the more you will have to be conscious of existing flavors to not create uncomplimentary flavor profiles.
As far as Flavoring Ingredients, go, there are a few general categories:
Herbs and Tea: These can be added in whole to your concoction. Dried Herbs work as well, but may be harder to strain completely.
Berry Fruits: Wash the fruits and add whole. For berries with a harder exterior, such as Cherries, you can try to help aid the process by scoring the skin with small incisions.
Larger Fruits: These fruits could include melons, pineapples, and melons. Anything larger than a berry, should be washed and chopped into roughly cubed 2in chunks.
Cocoa/Coffee: For these darker beans, it is usually best to use whole coffee beans and cocoa nibs. Coffee Grounds will intensify the flavor too quickly.
Garlic: Peel the garlic and add whole cloves.
Peppers: Spicy peppers are best cut in half, to expose/remove the seeds. If you want a spicier infusing, you may leave the seeds in, but you can tone down the spice by removing the capsaicin filled capsules.
Spices: Grind coarsely with mortor and pestle
Greens: Though it may seem odd, you can actually infused your alcohols with some power greens. Greens can add a light refreshing note to your libations, which is perfect for warming weather. It is recommended to use a blender on high when infusing greens, to cut without bruising and release the chlorophyll into the alcohol.
Prepare your flavoring ingredients (i.e. washing and chopping) place in alcohol
Secure your mason jar tightly and shake ingredients
Store concoction in a cool dry place for desired amount of time.
Strain alcohol using a fine mesh sieve, coffee filter or cheesecloth.
One of the common mistakes of infusion is leaving the concoction to sit for too long. Especially with stronger flavoring ingredients, steeping for too long can tip the scale and ruin the flavor of your experiment. Here are a few guidelines to inusion times, but always remember to taste often to make sure you like what is happening.
Tea/Herbs/Cocoa/Coffee/Spicy Peppers: A Few hours to one day
Berries & soft skin fruits: 3-7 Days
Cucumbers and mild fruits: 7-14 Days
Dried Spices: 1-2 weeks
Many people have different beliefs when it comes to infusion time, and these guidelines get messy once you start combining multiple infusion ingredients. The best policy is one of personal preference.
Because alcohol is a natural preservative, if you strain your product well enough, there shouldn’t be too many perishables in the alcohol.
This means that the product should keep for quite a while at room temperature away from light or in amber glass bottles, and even longer if you leave it in the fridge.
However, you do have to be sure to seal your storage container as airtight as possible. This will ensure that the product stays fresh for the maximum amount of time. It is normal for the flavor of an infused spirit to change a bit with time, however if you taste anything wrong, or begin to see the spirit cloud up, throw the whole project away.
Note: Products that were created with a blender, may keep for less time, as it will be harder to strain out as many of the perishable bits from the distillate.
Infusing your spirits can be a fun way for a DIYer to start experimenting more seriously with their cocktails. It is a fairly simple process, but with almost endless possibilities. Be sure to keep notes on all of your experiments so that you can continue to tweak and improve your recipes.