Looking for an elusive flavor in your spirits but can’t find it on your back bar? Infusing your own spirits could be the answer you are looking for! Whether you’re trying it for the first time, or are looking to up your infusion game, leading bartender Thomas Aske takes us through three different ways to create interesting flavors with your spirits.
The infusion of alcohol with herbs, spices, nuts, roots or bark is one that goes back to early civilization. Alcohol has a far greater ability to extract aromatic compounds than water and, as such, has been the primary method for creating medicines, perfumes and beverages for centuries. When we look at today’s alcoholic beverages, categories such as Vodka, Gin, Rum and liqueurs all employ infusions to create complex spirits. This trend is one that has transitioned into the bartender’s creative mindset, and the methods of infusion have become more innovative and scientifically enhanced over the last few years. When used correctly, simple, inexpensive processes can create new flavor combinations and a wide array of exotic homemade spirits and liqueurs. Here are a few techniques to get you started.
One of the easiest ways to infuse a spirit is through maceration, which involves immersing ingredients in the spirit. Over time, the alcohol will hold on to aromatic compounds from the ingredients steeped in it. This is a very simple process that can be done in a bar, using nothing more than glass jars and a whole lot of patience. The beauty of this process is that it extracts the natural characteristics of ingredients, such as delicate fruits or flowers, without the need for heating, preventing the breakdown or stewing of the ingredients.
British Summer Gin Liqueur
- 24 oz. TANQUERAY LONDON Dry Gin
- 11 oz. ripe Strawberries
- 3.5 oz. Sugar
- 1 Tbsp
Add TANQUERAY London Dry gin to a jar.
Quarter strawberries and mix with sugar.
Add to the jar and allow to macerate in the Gin for 1-2 weeks.
Fine strain the infused liquid through a cloth.
Add a tablespoon of Darjeeling tea to the strawberry Gin and cold infuse (refrigerate) overnight.
Fine strain through a cloth and bottle.
Intermediate: Sous Vide
Sous vide, or “under vacuum”, is a technique that has become increasingly popular among 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 of time. This can simply be done by using a vacuum-sealed bag and placing it 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 rate of infusion, so a bartender can have infusions ready within a matter of hours!
Peach & Tarragon Whisky
- 3 cups JOHNNIE WALKER Black Label
- 3 Sprigs of tarragon
- 6 Ripe peaches
Set the sous vide circulator to 104°F and allow it to reach temperature.
While the sous vide bath is warming, chop peaches and add to a vacuum bag with JOHNNIE WALKER Black Label .
Add tarragon to bag and seal. Note that if a vacuum sealer is unavailable, zip-lock food bags will work just as well. Try to remove as much air from the bag as possible.
Add the sealed bag to the sous vide bath and cook for 3 hours.
Remove from the bath and fine strain through a cloth before bottling and cooling.
Refrigerated, the infusion will last six months or more.
Advanced: Nitrogen Cavitation
Nitrogen cavitation, or flash infusion, is a process that uses pressure to extract flavor from ingredients. Applying pressure to a maceration of alcohol with roots or spices forces the liquid into cavities and increases the surface area ratio, which in turn increases the rate of infusion. This method is a great compromise between the maceration and sous-vide techniques because, not only is it rapid, but it also works at room temperature, making it suitable for more delicate ingredients. This method is best when extracting aromas and flavors from roots such as ginger, cacao or chilies. This can be done by using an iSi cream whipper and nitrous oxide canisters.
Recipe: Black Forest Vodka
2 cups of SMIRNOFF NO. 21 VODKA
7 oz. raw cacao nibs
5.25 oz. sour cherries, seeded and chopped
Add 500ml of SMIRNOFF NO.21 Vodka to an ISI cream whipper.
To this add 200g raw cacao nibs and 150g deseeded and chopped sour cherries.
Close the ISI and charge with a nitrous oxide canister. Shake vigorously.
Allow to rest for 10–20 minutes. Note: to speed up the process, you may set this in a sous vide water bath at 86°F for a shorter period. However, this will change the end product.
Ensuring that the canister is held upright, expel the gas from inside rapidly. It may help to cover the nozzle with a towel to avoid spillage.
Open the canister and fine strain through a cloth bottle.
Your very own twist on a classic
These infusions taste great neat, but they can add an innovative twist to some of our favorite classic cocktails, such as the Moscow Mule. Try adding 1.75 oz. of our Black Forest Vodka to a highball and top with ginger beer. Finish this with an orange wedge to create a complex, rich twist on this historic cocktail.
The most important thing is to have fun. Play around with different flavor combinations, explore and experiment—there’s a world of ingredients out there just waiting to be infused!