If the countless array of flavoured spirits on store shelves is anything to go by, the consumer demand for infusions has shot through the roof – and for good reason! When done properly, spirits infused with fresh, in-season produce can add a lovely depth and complexity to cocktails. Thomas Aske, industry heavyweight and Founder/Director of Fluid Movement, takes us through three different techniques for infusing enthusiasts.
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 alcohol with herbs, spices, nuts, roots and bark dates back to early civilisation.
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 but each one, when used correctly, can create innovative flavour combinations and produce a huge variety of homemade spirits and liqueurs. Here are a few common methods of infusing alcohol in order of complexity.
One of the easiest methods of infusing alcohol 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 flavours from delicate fruits and flowers without breaking down or ‘stewing’ them.
British Summer Gin Liqueur
700ml TANQUERAY LONDON DRY GIN
300g Ripe Strawberries
Take 700ml of TANQUERAY LONDON DRY 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 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 of time. This can simply be done by using a vacuum sealed bag and placing 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 infused drinks ready within a matter of hours!
Peach & Tarragon Whisky
700ml JOHNNIE WALKER BLACK LABEL
3 Sprigs of tarragon
6 Ripe peaches
Set the sous vide circulator to 40°c and allow to reach temperature.
Whilst the sous vide bath is warming, chop 6 ripe peaches and add these to 700ml of JOHNNIE WALKER BLACK LABEL 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 infused alcohol will last six months or more.
Advanced: Nitrogen Cavitation
Nitrogen cavitation or flash infusion is a process that uses pressure to extract flavour from ingredients. Applying pressure to a maceration of alcohol with roots or spices forces the liquid into cavities and increases the surface area ratio, in turn increasing the rate of infusion of alcohol. This method is a great compromise between the maceration and sous vide techniques as, not only is it rapid, but it also 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 by using an ISI cream whipper and nitrous oxide canisters.
Recipe: Black Forest Vodka
500ml SMIRNOFF NO. 21 VODKA
200g Raw cocao
150g Deseeded and chopped sour cherries
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 sit this in a sous vide water bath at 30°c 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.
One step further
The infused alcohols 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 flavour combinations, explore and experiment – there is a world of ingredients out there just waiting to be used for infusing alcohol!
CRAFTING YOUR OWN SYRUPS
Creating your own syrups is great way to add exciting new flavours to your favourite cocktails.
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