Happy Tuesday, everyone!
Flavored spirits are a rather polarizing force in the world of mixology — some people completely dismiss them, while others (ourselves included) welcome them occasionally for very specific purposes. But in general, flavored vodka (and other flavored spirits) have grown exponentially in popularity over the years, and although there are some good quality brands out there, you will often pay more for the luxury of chemically flavored liquor — when you could be doing it yourself, and often doing it better.
Pencils out everyone, because vodka infusion school is in session!
Here is the reality: unless you are dying to make your own chocolate-coconut-whipped-cream flavored vodka (please, please don’t), making your own infused creations is actually incredibly easy. And that is not the only advantage:
- It’s (usually) cheaper than buying pre-bottled varieties, especially since you can choose the exact quantity of the infused liquor you make and will not be left with half a bottle you never drink.
- it allows for more specificity and creativity (the sky is really the limit on flavor combinations).
- It is better for you! When you buy a fruit-flavored vodka or rum, that shit is FILLED with sugar and artificial flavoring, far more sugar than a typical rum or vodka, but when you make it yourself, you use the real thing! No added sugar, no chemicals.
- You won’t get a diluted product! Flavored spirits are almost universally lower in proof than their traditional counterparts, since sugar and other chemicals have been added to produce the desired flavor. Not so when you make your own!
We are going to focus solely on vodka for this little tutorial, but you can indeed infuse any spirit that you want. The advantage of vodka is that it is a neutral, fairly flavorless, spirit — so adding your own flavors won’t clash with what is already there. If you want to infuse another spirit, we recommend going with a young rum (nothing aged in oak barrels), or silver tequila. Things with very strong flavors already (gin, whiskey, aged rum etc) are much more difficult to infuse without the product turning out, well, disgusting.
If you are working with vodka, the infusion process is actually incredibly simple. All you will need is:
- Some relatively good quality vodka (the better the quality, the better the infusion. You don’t need to buy Belvedere or Ketel One for this, but you want a smooth vodka as your base.)
- Whatever fruit, spice, veggie, or herbs you want to use as your flavoring
- An air-tight container (mason jars, plastic tupperware jug etc)
- About 3-5 days
First, choose the flavoring you want to use: herbs, spices, fruit, or flavorful veggies. You always want to use fresh, whole ingredients — even (and especially) if you are using spices, which means nothing should be ground. We decided to make some habanero infused vodka to use with our Spicy AM cocktail, for example.
It is worth noting that you can put multiple flavors into your infusion. Mint and lime? Awesome! Garlic and basil? Yum! The sky is the limit, people.
After you have chosen your ingredients, prep whatever you are using to flavor your vodka.
- If you are using fresh herbs, wash them. Don’t chop anything or pull leaves from the stems.
- If you are using spices, we recommend placing them inside a loose-leaf tea strainer like this. This will make it much easier to get everything out of the vodka once your infusion is complete.
- If you are using soft, porus fruit (like berries), just wash them whole.
- If you are using hard fruit and/or fruit with thick peels (like apples or mangos) wash and roughly chop them.
- If you are using citrus, we recommend only using the peels, not the actual meat of the fruit.
- If you are using garlic, peel the individual cloves.
- If you are using spicy peppers, we highly, highly recommend seeding them before you infuse them. Trust us, the vodka will still be plenty spicy. If you leave the seeds in there, it will be undrinkable.
Get the drift?
Once your ingredients are prepped, simply place them in the bottom of your airtight container, and then add in your desired amount of vodka. Start small as you experiment with flavors, you can always make more later.
Now seal your container, and give it a quick shake. Find a cool, dark place to store it (it does not need to be refrigerated), and you are off!
You will want to give the container a quick shake about 3-5 times a day during the 3-5 day infusion. For stronger flavors (peppers, strong spices etc), 3 days will suffice. For milder flavors (fruit, herbs), you may need the full 5 days.
After the infusion is complete, remove whatever ingredients are in there. This is usually easiest if you transfer the vodka to another container and use something like a coffee strainer to capture any errant piece of fruit or spice that may try to hitch a ride to the new place.
And there you go! You are now officially in the unofficial liquor making business.
Get to creating!