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Fantastic Flavors - How to Infuse Spirits

Alcohol is much more effective at extracting aromatic compounds than water and has been the primary method for creating medicines, perfumes and beverages for centuries. In fact, the practice of infusing of alcohol with herbs, spices, nuts, roots and bark dates back to early civilization.

When we look at today’s alcoholic beverages, virtually every category, from gin to tequila, uses infusion to create a more complex final product, and this practice has transitioned into the bartender’s creative mindset. The methods of infusion have become more advanced in recent years but each one, when used correctly, can create innovative flavor combinations and produce a huge variety of homemade spirits and liqueurs. Here are a few common methods in order of complexity

Beginner: Maceration

One of the easiest methods is to simply immerse the ingredients in your chosen spirit, known as maceration. This is a very simple process that can be done in a bar, using nothing more than a few glass jars and a whole 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 be used to extract flavors from delicate fruits and flowers without breaking down or ‘stewing’ them.

British Summer Gin Liqueur

METHOD:

Take 23.6 oz. of gin and add to a jar

Quarter 300g of ripe strawberries and 100g 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 amongst bartenders as it can quickly produce high-quality infusions at a relatively low cost. Foods and liquids are placed in a package (typically a canning jar or a zip-lock plastic bag) and the air is then removed. The sealed package is immersed in a water bath or container kept at a precise temperature. The increased temperature at which the infusion takes place increase the rate of flavor extraction, so bartenders can have infusions ready within a matter of hours.

Peach & Tarragon Whisky

METHOD:

Set the sous-vide circulator to 40c and allow to reach temperature.

Whilst the sous-vide bath is warming, chop 6 ripe peaches and add these to 700ml of whisky in a vacuum bag.

Add to the bag 3 sprigs of tarragon and seal. Note that if a vacuum sealer is unavailable, ziplock 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’ uses pressure to extract flavor from ingredients. The principle is that by applying pressure to a maceration of alcohol and your chosen fruits or spices, liquid is forced into the cavities of the ingredients, increasing the surface area and therefore increasing the rate of infusion. This method is a great compromise between maceration and sous-vide as it’s quick and it also works at room temperature, making it suitable for more delicate ingredients. Nitrogen cavitation is best used to extract aromatics and spices from roots such as ginger, cacao or chillies. This can be done by using an ISI cream whipper and nitrous oxide canisters

Recipe: Black Forest Vodka

METHOD:

Add 16.9 oz. 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 sit this is a sous vide water batch at 30c for a shorter period. This will however 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.

One step further

The infused spirits mentioned can be enjoyed neat or added to cocktails for an innovative twist on classics, such the Moscow Mule. Try adding 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 flavor combinations, explore and experiment – there is a world of ingredients out there just waiting to be infused!

(*One standard drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol)