Let’s face it: handmade gifts show your loved ones that you care, but you’re too old to give them macaroni art, and knitting a sweater is beyond most of us. Why not try something we’ve done in our families and craft spirit infusions that are totally individualized to their personality and flavor preference. Spicy, sweet, savory – the options are as diverse as your friends.
So… What’s an Infusion?
While infusions may appear to be a recent trend, consider the fact that people have been drinking tea for millennia. An infusion is merely the process of extracting the flavors from plants and other ingredients into a solvent (water, oil, or liquor) through steeping. While the reasons for infusing water and liquor in the past may have been to make the taste more palatable or to add medicinal elements through certain herbs, today’s infusions are more about enhancing and personalizing the culinary experience.
A few of the infusions in our tasting room right now. Something for everyone!
If you’ve ever tasted a homemade infused liquor versus its store-bought counterpart, you’ll know why freshmade infusions are better. From giving your Moscow Mule an extra kick by using your own ginger-infused vodka to crafting a unique flavor combination that’s totally sippable on its own, infusions can lift your cocktails to the next level. Plus, you know the spirit’s flavor is coming from a good, natural source instead of some factory-produced artificial flavor.
Like any culinary endeavor, the best results are achieved by using the best ingredients, so it’s particularly important not to skimp on the liquor you’re infusing. If it’s your first attempt, simply start with a smaller batch rather than a cheaper spirit. Your tongue will thank you.
How Do You Infuse Spirits?
The infusion process is simple: You need a glass jar (glass won’t leach into the liquor) with an airtight lid (we like Ball mason jars); liquor; whatever herbs, spices, fruits, and veggies that will create the flavor you want; and time.
Additional tools that will make the process easier:
- Knife and cutting board
- Peeler or zester
- Mortar and pestle or muddler
- Fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth
- Second glass jar with an airtight lid
As you might guess, vodka is the easiest spirit to infuse because its neutral taste can simply act as the crisp black and white backdrop to the colorful blast of flavor from your other infusion ingredients. However, this does not mean you should shy away from experimenting with gin, whiskey, or any other spirits – they just require a little more experimentation (not such a bad thing really…).
Dried Versus Fresh Ingredients
When it comes to fruits and veggies, fresh is best (though frozen can work, too). Some dried fruits, however, such as raisins, prunes, and cranberries, still pack quite a taste; if you want to try using dried fruit, simply rehydrate it before adding it to the liquor. For citrus flavors, use the top layer of the fruit peel (with minimal pith), rather than the fruit itself.
When selecting other fruits and veggies, consider whether the peel could hurt or enhance the flavor. Cucumber is a great example–its skin is typically bitter, so you’ll want to peel off the skin before adding it to the liquor. On the other hand, sometimes leaving the pit of a peach or the stem of a cherry can add a slight nutty flavor that could round out your infusion.
Freshly picked herbs can add a brighter or sharper taste to your infusion, but dried herbs offer a concentrated flavor, require less work, and are more accessible year-round.
Spices are generally dried and though some should be cut or crushed open–vanilla beans, cardamom pods–most spices should be left intact rather than ground. However, if you want to intensify a certain spice, such as a cinnamon stick, grinding it up into smaller pieces increases the spice’s surface area, which boosts its flavor.
Nuts, like spices, are generally dried; however, because their flavor tends to be more subtle, it is best to grind them up a little (not too finely or you won’t be able to easily remove them).
After you’ve added all your ingredients to the glass jar (the spirit should cover all other ingredients) and secured the lid, simply shake the jar a few times and then set it in a cool dark place so it can steep in peace. Depending on the ingredients you chose, an infusion can take anywhere from one day to several weeks. Shake it every day and taste it regularly until you’re ready to pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
Ready to Try It?
It’s actually really easy. Want to ask questions and bounce some ideas off someone? Swing by the tasting room and try a few of our infusions – you can always pick our brains for inspiration, too!
We’ve got recipe/instruction cards and infusion kits prepped if you want help with your first attempt.
Everyone appreciates a thoughtful handcrafted gift, and infusing spirits is a great way to spread good cheer. Why not create a person-specific infusion for your loved ones this season? We’d love to hear what recipes you come up with!