WSET Guide to Unlocking Great Cocktails with Flavoured Spirits
In recent years, customer demand for flavoured spirits has skyrocketed. But how are flavoured spirits made, and is there an art to creating cocktails with these less traditional liquids.
Author: Rob McCaughey, Senior Business Development Manager at Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET)
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
When I talk about ‘flavoured spirits’, what springs to mind for many people are artificially flavoured and sweetened, low-quality spirits. Back in the nineties, that’s most likely what you’d have purchased on a whim if you fancied ‘something a bit different’.
Thankfully, flavoured spirits have come a long way since… There are now much more sophisticated, premium flavoured spirits available on the market with far more depth and expressiveness. You also have the option to create your own flavoured spirits, which gives you the freedom to customize them with whatever flavours you like – adding your very own stamp. But, how exactly can you make high-quality flavoured spirits, and how can we use them to create well-balanced cocktails customers will love?
Let’s explore the different ways flavoured spirits can be made:
HOW TO CREATE A FLAVOURED SPIRIT
Step 1: Decide what base spirit to use. You can either start with a neutral spirit (e.g. vodka) as a blank canvas and add the flavours, or you could start with a characterful spirit such as scotch whisky and complement what’s already there with flavours like apple or pear.
Step 2: Decide what to flavour your base spirit with. This can be a single ingredient or multiple and can include natural (botanicals) ingredients such as fruits, herbs, flowers or artificial flavourings like vanilla or strawberry.
Step 3: Decide how these flavours will be added to your base. There are a few ways you can do this – maceration, re-distillation or simply adding spirit essences.
WHAT IS MACERATION?
Maceration involves adding ingredients, such as herbs, spices or fruit, directly to your base spirit (let’s say it’s whisky). As your ingredients bathe in the whisky, some of the qualities and characteristics of your ingredients including their flavour, colour and bitterness, will transfer to the spirit. This part of the process is called extraction. If you want to speed up the extraction, you can add some heat to the liquid.
Once finished, you’re left with what’s commonly referred to as a tincture. Tinctures are flavoured, concentrated alcoholic infusions that bartenders can use to enhance the flavours of a cocktail by adding a drop or two. You can also use a tincture as a spray to add an appetizing scent to your serve.
WHAT IS RE-DISTILLATION?
When you want to create a flavoured spirit with very specific characteristics, re‑distillation is your best friend. However, you can only use neutral spirits for this technique (so let’s say vodka). The process involves:
- Adding ingredients like flowers and fruit to a still, and then re-distilling them with your vodka, for example.
- After re‑distillation, your vodka will contain some of the characteristics of the flowers and fruit.
This method is more expensive than maceration and all colour gets left behind in the still, so the vodka you’d be left with would be clear.
However, you have much more control over what makes it into the final product. So, if you want to keep more of the fruity, floral top notes and discard the earthy and spicy base notes, for example, this can be done using re-distillation.
ADDING FLAVOUR USING SPIRIT ESSENCES
Finally, an easier and more affordable option would be to simply buy flavourings from specialist suppliers and add them to the spirit.
Flavourings can be created naturally by concentrating ingredients like fruit or herbs directly or made artificially using flavouring agents like ester.
Not only is this often more affordable, but it also allows you to use flavours that might otherwise be difficult to work with or might not be readily available.
Top Tip: You can create good quality spirits with flavourings, however, it’s always best to purchase them from specialist suppliers who have all the necessary knowledge.
HOW TO USE FLAVOURED SPIRITS IN COCKTAILS
There are endless ways you can create delicious cocktails with flavoured spirits.
Most importantly, when creating a cocktail with a flavoured spirit, you either want to emphasise or complement specific flavours with the rest of your ingredients.
Flavoured gins like Gordon’s Pink Gin, for example, can add complex, nuanced flavours without the need to create your own flavourings which can be expensive and potentially inconsistent. If your guest loves a G&T, why not offer them a pink gin for a change? Here, you can complement the strawberry and raspberry notes, by adding fresh slices of strawberry, lemonade, prosecco and ice.
Flavoured Spirit Cocktail Recipes
- Flavoured spirits are trending. If you don’t already have them in your beverage programme, now’s a good time to make that investment.
- There are three main ways you can create a flavoured spirit: maceration, re-distillation and adding essences (purchasing flavourings).
- Purchasing flavourings is a simple and affordable option, however the quality of these can vary considerably so it’s always best to consult with specialist suppliers.
- Using flavoured spirits can help cut costs where you may have used additional ingredients in your serve to bring out the same flavours.
- When creating a cocktail, you always want to either complement or emphasise the flavours in the flavoured spirit you’re working with.