Submerge a stick of cinnamon in your favorite brand of liquor, let it sit for a few days, and you will discover the delicious potential of spice-infused spirits. We are not saying it is as easy as dropping a cinnamon stick into a bottle of booze...actually we are saying that. But, there are a few tips and tricks for creating delicious infusions at home. We put together a quick guide to DIY infused spirits, so your spice cabinet and bar cart can become best friends. If you have your own recipe for a spice-infused liquor, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave us a comment below.
Selecting Alcohol for Infusing
Neutral spirits like unflavored vodka are the best to start with. Plain spirits let you take in the unique flavors of your infusion ingredients. Try to use good quality spirits as well. Don’t choose anything you wouldn’t want to drink on its own.
While beginning with a neutral spirit is advised, there really are no rules for what type of spirit to choose. Rum, bourbon, and brandy often compliment the flavor of spices and are popular spirits for flavor infusing. (Think spiced rum.) Don’t feel limited to just hard liquor either. You can also infuse beverages like wine, sake, or soju with spices and herbs, although they may require longer infusion times.
Selecting Your Container
Glass containers with a wide mouth are the best to work with when making infused spirits. The wide mouth makes it easier to remove your spices, herbs, and other ingredients later. Spices enlarge when they soak up alcohol and can be hard to remove from a narrow bottleneck. Avoid plastic containers as the combination of alcohol and aromatic oils from spices can interact with the plastic and give your beverage an off taste.
We like using mason jars because they are easy to find, easy to use, and easy to clean. Plus, you can purchase a 12-pack of the smaller 8 oz jars to make different batches of infusions. This lets you experiment without committing to a batch size that requires a full bottle of alcohol and larger amounts of spices.
Infusing Alcohol With Herbs and Spices
Whatever spices you select for infusing, we recommend you choose them in whole or coarse form. Ground spices will cloud and potentially overseason your spirit. This is when whole spices like cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, and bay leaves really shine.
If you like the flavor of a certain spice, chances are you will really enjoy it in an infused spirit. Sweet baking spices are a good place to start. Cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cacao nibs, star anise, lemon zest, orange zest, lime zest, lavender buds, and vanilla beans are top picks for making sweeter infused spirits.
Don’t forget about spices we often associate with savory flavors. Peppercorns, bay leaves, chile peppers, coriander seeds, dill seed, rosemary needles, thyme leaves, and even garlic have their place behind the bar. Vodka infused with these savory flavors make for incredible bloody marys and refined martinis.
Both fresh and dried herbs and spices have their separate advantages. Dry ingredients like citrus peels and thyme leaves have a concentrated flavor that many enjoy. However, some people prefer the convenience of removing a whole sprig of rosemary instead of the dried needles.
Infusing Alcohol With Fruits and Vegetables
Whole fruits and vegetables add delicious flavors and vibrant colors to your spirits. Plus, the leftover fruit can be saved for special desserts. Vanilla ice cream with rum-soaked strawberries, anyone?
Pairing your spirits with spices, herbs, fruits, and vegetables is where the real fun begins. Peaches, strawberries, and bourbon would go great with a vanilla bean or cinnamon stick. Parsnips, cucumbers, and vodka would do well with rosemary and coriander.
When you have selected some fruits and veggies to infuse, be sure to thoroughly clean them of any dirt or dust. The alcohol can soak up any off flavors from residual dirt. You should also remove things like stems and leaves as they too add bitter flavors.
Fruits and vegetables should be cut into medium-sized chunks. The exposed surface area helps their flavors fully infuse. It’s better to select fruits that are relatively firm and not overripe. If the fruit is too ripe it could turn to mush and cloud the final product.
Time Ingredients and Taste as You Go
Most infusions require less than a week to make, but some flavors express themselves faster than others. A Carolina reaper chile pepper can turn a bottle of vodka volcanic in less than 12 hours, and become nuclear within 24.
Generally speaking, the stronger the flavor of and greater the surface area of the spice, the faster it will infuse into alcohol. Fruits and vegetables can take up to a week to release their best flavor while a cinnamon stick may only need three to five days. If your recipe calls for a mild fruit and a strong spice, start with the fruit for the first few days before adding your spices.
We recommend tasting your infusion every 12 to 24 hours. Spices and herbs that over-infuse can release bitter flavors and ruin the flavor profile of your infused spirit. When you are pleased with the flavor of your infusion, strain the spirits through a fine mesh sieve and store the liquid in a new container.
Take Good Notes
You don’t need a recipe to start making your own infusions, but you may wish to recreate a tasty experiment in the future. As you conjure up new concoctions, it’s helpful to write down your steps. How much spirits did you use? What spices did you choose and what quantities? How long did you let it infuse for? These are all questions you will ask yourself when you’re sipping your delicious creation and cannot recall the answers.
How to Make Homemade Infused Gin
Now that we’ve covered the basics of infusing spirits, we can begin to explore one of the most popular infused liquors, gin. Gin is a spirit distilled from grains and flavored primarily with juniper berries, but contains a wide range of spices like coriander, citrus peel, and cinnamon. While authentic gin requires a second distillation after infusion, don’t let that stop you from creating gin at home. This homemade style of gin is often called compound gin. It may not be clear like authentic gin, but it is just as flavorful.
Our spice merchants in Chicago and Evanston have been experimenting with homemade infused gins and developed three simple recipes. These compound gins are deliciously complex when served on the rocks, but get even better in your craft cocktail recipes.