What is an infusion exactly? The way I see it, it is a type of symbiosis. Spirits and fruit, vegetables or herbs working together to create a wonderful byproduct. There are many “flavored” spirits on the market these days. They are created with synthetic flavors and are great for those who don’t wish to take the time to create. The beauty of infusing flavors into spirits on your own, is that the possibilities are endless AND you don’t have to buy the most expensive/premium spirits to make a wonderful infusion. You can actually use a less superior product and achieve magnificent results.
Also known as macerating, infusing liquor is a great way to achieve fantastic cocktails. All you need is a container big enough to hold a bottle of booze and whatever you want to infuse into it. I personally enjoy mixing many different fruits, veggies, or herbs together to create unique flavor profiles. I will give you an example. I made an apple, bacon, and cinnamon infused bourbon for the Woodford Reserve Competition.
To make the infusion, take a pitcher or jar with a lid and put an 8oz package of dehydrated apples *, 10 slices of cooked bacon, and one cinnamon stick and cover them with the bourbon. Let the concoction to rest at room temperature for 2 days. After a couple of days, use a muddle to mash the mixture down and then let it rest for 2 more days. Next using new and hand washed gloves, squeeze the apples and bacon, expressing the juices and bourbon into a bowl. Discard the apples, bacon, and cinnamon stick. Put the bowl of bourbon into your freezer for an hour to allow the fat to harden on the top of the liquid.
Using a fine mesh strainer, pour the bourbon through to strain off the fat. Now for the hard part… you will need couple bowls or glasses and coffee filters. Wrap the filters around the glassware and slowly pour some of the bourbon into each vessel and wait.
This part is very long and boring. Your best bet is to set up a lot of containers to spread the bourbon out more. The reason I say this is the hard part, is because I’m not the most patient person and I hate getting to the filtering part. I just want to taste my end results! LOL.
After the bourbon is filtered you can pour it back into the bottle. Once you pour the bourbon back in you will notice that it looks like someone has tapped into your liquid gold ahead of time. This is normal. During the infusion process you will be giving an “angel’s share” back. Much like what happens in barrel aging, some of the liquor gets absorbed by the food used to infuse it. If you want a full bottle of infused spirit you will need 1 ½ to 2 bottles to start with. Call it the price you pay for perfection.
Now that your infusion is complete, all that is left is to enjoy. You can sip it straight or on the rocks. Or you can put it in a cocktail. Here is the recipe I used with the infusion:
Breakfast in Manhattan
by Wendy Verdel-Hodges
2 ½ oz Apple, Cinnamon, Bacon infused bourbon
1 oz Lillet Blonde
3-4 dashes Barkeep Baked Apple bitters
Put all ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir until well chilled. (Approx. 25 turns of the spoon)
Strain cocktail into a chilled coupe or martini glass.
Garnish as desired.
I used an apple chip infused with cinnamon and maple syrup, painted with gold dust and topped with candied bacon. This is the extreme and not necessary for the taste of the cocktail. You could simply use a cherry or even a lemon twist.
This was one example of infusing. You can use your imagination and get as complex or as simple as you want. Apricot and mango pisco, peppers and celery infused in vodka for a delicious bloody mary, pineapples vanilla bean, and Mexican brown sugar in anjeo tequila, lavender and lychee gin…the possibilities are endless. Don’t be afraid to experiment on a small scale (mason jar) to see what flavors go well together. Then you can go on an infuse the whole bottle.
Some basic pointers are this:
Trial and error are all part of learning to infuse spirits. Don’t be afraid to try.
Infusions are not the same as premixed cocktails…they are still straight spirits with the essence of what you macerated in them.
Dried or dehydrated fruits have a higher concentration of sugars and will produce a sweeter infusion.
*fresh fruits release more juice into the mixture thus softening the end product.
The more porous the ingredient, the faster it releases flavor. (Strawberries and cucumbers are good examples…don’t leave them in the spirit for more than 3 days because they start to decomposed and make filtering a pain in the butt)
Leafy green herbs should not be left in a spirit for more than 8 hours or they start to turn musty. (ex: mint)
Never use raw meat in your infusion…there are some things you just don’t want to drink. (Bacteria, botulism, etc.)
Leave peppers whole to get a nice flavor and light spice in the infusion. If you expose the seeds and membranes, you will need to check the infusion within an hour or two so you don’t make it so hot it’s not drinkable.