First off, let me get the legalese out of the way: Please be sure to check your local, state, province, or country’s liquor laws before attempting to make your own liquor infusions. I am not responsible for the legal accuracies and inaccuracies of your utilization of this information. It is absolutely illegal to sell your home creations to anyone in the US without adequate licensing. Create your own infusions at your own risk. Well, that’s a bummer. 😉
One of the big party trends for 2012, homemade liquor infusions. For those who drink and desire more exotic or savory flavors, consider making your own instead of settling only for what’s available in ye olde liquor store. Case in point: I love cinnamon, but after a very ill thought out drinking contest in the stupidity of my youth, I cannot stomach the fake cinnamon taste of just about all cinnamon flavored liquor. Even the smell of the fake stuff makes me gag and those fake pine cones around the Winter holidays? No bueno my friend…no bueno. They don’t call it Aftershock for nothing dear readers. Look at this bottle of death:
Typically, the alcohol used to create infusions is vodka. Vodka is odorless and tasteless making it great for readily picking up and leeching the best flavors out of your ingredients without competing with them. So, since I’m a fan of natural cinnamon flavor, I can buy some good ol’ vodka (remember that your creation will only be as good as its base) and steep cinnamon sticks in it for a few weeks and voila! Cinnamon flavored liquor without that harsh fake flavor. Stir in some half and half and top with whipped cream and some grated cinnamon and you’ve got a great natural cinnamon drink to serve your guests.
In my opinion, the best and recommended way of creating your infusions, is to use natural fresh ingredients and steer clear of fake extracts. The best flavor comes from Mother Nature herself and imitations always fall flat and can leave your alcohol with some funky aftertastes. If you are using herbs and spices be they whole, cracked, or ground, be sure to place them inside a 100% cotton muslin bag otherwise you are going to have to strain the stuffing out of your infusion. Why create more work for yourself?
When choosing your flavors, you can use one flavor straight up (vanilla, sour cherries, coffee, etc.) or combine multiple flavors to create a mix that is truly yours. One of my favorites is lemongrass and ginger. Think of combining flavors in terms of creating a well thought out dinner. The flavors should complement one another and have enough layers to capture the palette. Use your favorite candy or dessert as a basis for an infusion (some candies you can just put right in to your liquor) or a favorite savory dish or sauce (using garam masala would be awesome!).
Once you’ve got your base and have determined your flavors, add the flavoring agents to your base and wait. No, not yet. Wait two – four weeks (especially for fruits) for maximum flavor potential. If you are making a sweet infusion, do not add sugar directly to the alcohol. Sugar doesn’t break down well and you won’t be able to judge the sweetness level appropriately. Instead, make a simple syrup of two parts sugar to one part water and stir until the granules are completely dissolved. Let it cool and then add it to your infusion to taste. Then…wait..again…about a month to ensure the flavors have had a chance to blend and strain any matter out of your infusion before bottling.
After that four weeks of waiting, it’s time to bottle up your concoction and try it on your friends. You will need bottles (screw tops are easiest, but you can buy an intro corker for about $15 -$20). Obviously, creating a liquor infusions requires planning, time and patience, but it’s SO worth it in the end. If you have a special occasion coming up like Mother’s or Father’s Day, a wedding, a birthday party, etc. think of what sort of flavors your guest of honor likes or the flavors you will be using in your menu and plan accordingly.
Here are some great recipe sites, books, and pics to inspire you:
Infused by Susan Elia McNeal
Cordials from Your Kitchen: Easy, Elegant Liqueurs You Can Make & Give by Pattie Vargas
The Seasonal Cocktail Companion: 100 Recipes and Projects for Four Seasons of Drinking by Maggie Savarino
Jolly Rancher infusion via Pinterest: http://undergroundbartender.com/site/jolly-rancher-infusion/#
Happy age appropriate and safe drinking!