A Bartender Guide to Infusion
Infusion has transitioned into bartending, producing innovative flavour combinations. Learn how to enhance your cocktail creation with this technique.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
What is infusion?
Infusing alcohol with herbs, spices, nuts, roots and bark dates back to early civilisation. Alcohol is much more effective at extracting aromatic compounds than water. It has been the primary method for creating medicines, perfumes and beverages for centuries, with many of today’s most famous liqueurs stemming from this practice. When we look at today’s alcoholic beverages, virtually every category, from gin to tequila, uses alcohol infusion to create a more complex final product, and this practice has transitioned into the bartender’s creative mindset. The methods of infusing alcohol have become more advanced in recent years.
Still, when used correctly, each can create innovative flavour combinations and produce various homemade spirits and liqueurs. Join us on this journey into the aromatic and delightful world of infusion in cocktails.
Infusion, in the realm of mixology, is extracting flavours and aromatic compounds from ingredients, such as herbs, fruits, spices, and botanicals, into a solvent, usually a spirit. Over time, the spirit imbibes the essence of these ingredients, resulting in a flavoured spirit that carries the depth and complexity of the infusing agents.
Essential Tools for Infusion
- Sealable Glass Jars: These containers allow the ingredients to be submerged in the spirit and being airtight, ensure the flavours meld without outside interference.
- Fine Strainers and Cheesecloth: Vital for separating the infused spirit from the solid ingredients post-infusion.
- Muddlers and Mortars and Pestles: Useful for gently crushing herbs or fruits to release their flavours more efficiently.
Techniques and Best Practices
- Choosing Ingredients: The possibilities are endless – from the zestiness of citrus peels, the warmth of cinnamon and cloves, the herbaceous notes of basil and rosemary, to the sweet profiles of fruits. Fatty ingredients like butter, oils and even bacon can also be infused (although a specialised technique called Fat Washing must be used).
- Duration of Infusion: While some ingredients, like chilli peppers, may take just hours, others, such as vanilla pods or certain fruits, could require days or weeks. It's crucial to taste the infusion periodically to achieve the desired intensity.
- Ingredient Preparation: Ingredients should be fresh and thoroughly cleaned. Some, like fruits, can be sliced to increase surface area, while others, like herbs, might be muddled gently to release their essential oils.
- The Ratio of Spirit to Ingredient: A higher volume of spirit may dilute the flavour intensity. Balancing the quantity of the spirit with the ingredient ensures optimal flavour extraction.
- Storage Conditions: Infusions should be stored in a cool, dark place to protect the flavours and maintain the quality of the spirit.
The Art of Infused Cocktails
Infusions open a realm of possibilities:
- Spice-infused Vodka: Imagine the warmth of star anise or the kick of black pepper, transforming the neutral profile of vodka.
- Herbaceous Gins: Elevating the botanical nature of gin with fresh herbs like coriander or tarragon.
- Tropical Rums: Imbuing rum with the sunny mango, pineapple, or coconut flavours.
- Whisky Wonders: Whisky infused with coffee beans, dark chocolate, or even smoky bacon.
One of the easiest methods of infusing alcohol is to immerse the ingredients in your chosen spirit, known as maceration. This straightforward process can be done in a bar, using only a few glass jars and a lot of patience. Over time, the alcohol will slowly absorb the aromatic compounds of the ingredients. The beauty of maceration is that it is done at room temperature, so it can extract flavours from delicate fruits and flowers without breaking down or ‘stewing’ them
Intermediate: Sous Vide
Sous vide, or “under vacuum”, is a technique of infusing alcohol that has become increasingly popular amongst bartenders, as it quickly produces high-quality infusions at a relatively low cost.
Sous vide consists of cooking ingredients that have been vacuumed together in a constant temperature water bath over a set period. This can be done by placing a vacuum-sealed bag in a water bath or container with a temperature-controlled steam environment, but the best way to do it is using a precision cooker.
The benefit of this technique is that the higher temperature increases the infusion rate, so a bartender can have infused drinks ready within hours!
Advanced: Nitrogen Cavitation
Nitrogen cavitation or flash infusion is a process that uses pressure to extract flavour from ingredients. Applying pressure to the maceration of alcohol with roots or spices forces the liquid into cavities and increases the surface area ratio, increasing the infusion rate of alcohol.
This method is an excellent compromise between the maceration and sous vide techniques as it is rapid and works at room temperature, making it suitable for more delicate ingredients. This method of infusing alcohol is best when extracting aromas and flavours from roots such as ginger, cacao or chillies. This can be done using an ISI cream whipper and nitrous oxide canisters.
This Black Forest Vodka recipe is a great one for trying the Nitrogen Cavitation method of infusion.
One step further
The infused alcohols mentioned can be enjoyed neat or added to cocktails for an innovative twist on classics, such as the Moscow Mule.
Add 50ml of Black Forest Vodka to a highball and top with ginger beer.
Finish with an orange wedge to create a complex, delicious twist. Play around with different flavour combinations, explore and experiment – there is a world of ingredients waiting to be used to infuse alcohol.
- Infusion is a method used since early civilisation which, in mixology terms, is extracting flavours and aromatic compounds from ingredients, such as herbs, fruits, spices, and botanicals, into a solvent, usually a spirit.
- Virtually every category, from gin to tequila, uses alcohol infusion to create a more complex final product, and this practice has transitioned into the bartender’s creative mindset.
- From maceration to nitrogen cavitation, techniques used for infusion range from beginner to more advanced level.
- Different tools for infusion can include sealable glass jars, fine strainers and cheesecloth or muddlers and mortars and pestles.
- Infusion opens up a world of flavour possibilities, including spice-infused vodka; herbaceous gins; tropical rums and whisky wonders.
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