Drink(s) of the Week: Vodka & Tequila Infusions
Steph listens to The Splendid Table podcast. A recent episode featured a caller who was curious about infusions. She listened to this episode on a plane flight home, and my first text messages from her when she landed read something like “infusions infusions infusions, we must make infusions.”
It was a fun project: a little like a science project, a little like magic, and with cocktails at the end–most of them worth drinking. Here’s what we learned, what we did, and what we drank.
What we learned
- It’s super-easy to infuse liquors–it takes almost no skill, very little material, the smallest amount of time, and a little bit of patience.
- It’s quite a bit harder to choose an infusion that you’ll actually want to drink–the challenging part isn’t the process of infusion, but choosing the right combination of flavors to add. It was trickier than we thought to imagine ahead of time how the combination of spirits and our added flavor was going to taste; and there’s not really a way to adjust midstream. It either works or doesn’t. We diversified our risk by trying a handful of experiments, and we were about half successful: we poured one down the sink, two were alright, and one we might do again sometime.
- The drinks were also pretty easy–once we had infusions we liked, it wasn’t all that difficult to decide on fairly simple drinks that had something out of the ordinary to them.
Rosemary & vodka
Cranberry, ginger, & vodka
Cranberry, orange peel, & vodka
Cinnamon stick, clove, ginger, & tequila infusion
Nice Try but Stick to Focaccia Bread
Rosemary infusion: Tasted straight, it was like liquid rosemary. A very strong, single-note herbal flavor. We mixed it with Genepy (an herbal liqueur) and Cocchi Americano (a sweet fortified wine), hoping the Genepy would complexify it and the Cocchi would soften it. It almost worked. The resulting cocktail tasted just fine, but had a strange smell like rotting rosemary. This is the infusion we poured down the sink, along with the resulting cocktail.
We’ve had rosemary drinks before and enjoyed them, but perhaps infusion is too intense a method for rosemary. In the future, when we use rosemary, we’ll stick to adding a bit to the shaker as in the Rosemary Maple Bourbon Sour.
Cinnamon stick, clove, ginger infusion: In contrast to the rosemary infusion, this one had a wonderful aroma; tequila’s distinctive vegetal scent combined surprisingly well with this wintry spice mix. Also unlike the rosemary infusion, this one had quite a complex flavor. Like the rosemary one, it was quite intense.
Thinking this could make an interesting dessert cocktail, we tried it in a White Brave Bull (White Russian with Tequila instead of vodka). It was good enough to finish, but not one we’re chomping at the bit to try again.
Next, we tried it with some ginger beer. This was not at all bad, but kind of busy. We’d happily drink this if it were served to us, but won’t go out of the way to make it ourselves.
Solid Runner Up
Orange peel, cranberry infusion: this one was probably our favorite infusion sipped straight. There was a very delicate tartness from the cranberries that played nicely with the slightly bitter sweetness of the orange peel.
We tried several iterations of a martini with this one, eventually finding one that worked. A straight vodka martini was too harsh, but adding other liqueurs overwhelmed the flavor of the infusion. We finally settled on mixing it with some falernum (a sweet, low-alcohol Caribbean cordial usually used in tiki and beach drinks), for a sweeter version of a martini. It was quite tasty, and may have even been a little better with a splash of cranberry juice. I imagine white Lillet would work similarly, but we didn’t have any on hand.
Cranberry and ginger infusion: in taste, the ginger took the leading role in this one, but with strong support from the cranberry. In looks, the cranberry added a very attractive blush. We mixed it with tonic (we use Fever Tree), and loved it. We have a little of this infusion left, and we’re looking forward to more Cranberry, Ginger, and Tonic.
Make it Yourself
The process is amazingly simple:
- choose your spirit–don’t use your best here. The flavors from the infusion are going to predominate over the nuances of a fine spirit. So, use a basic mixing spirit here. Vodka is simplest, since it has a fairly neutral flavor on its own. As you can see, we also tried a tequila. We wouldn’t do this with gin, since the gin maker has already done a very similar process themselves already. Whiskey could be interesting, but seems like a much higher level of difficulty.
- choose your flavors–this is the fun part. What flavors sound interesting to you? It might not work, but it will be fun finding out.
- add your flavors to your spirit–just a little bit of whatever fruit, spice, or herb you choose will go a long way. Lynne Rossetto Kaspser suggested not to use fresh fruit as it would cloud the liquor but suit yourself.
- store in an airtight bottle or jar for 5 days
- taste your experiments.
That’s all there is to it!
Make the Drink
Since the point is to let the flavors of the infusion shine, we recommend sticking for the most part to simple, two ingredient drinks:
- Martini–stir 2 oz of your infusion with .5 oz of vermouth or Cocchi Americano (a bit sweeter and crisper) in an ice-filled shaker, and strain into a cocktail glass;
- Tonic–mix 2 oz of your infusion with 2 oz of tonic in an ice-filled highball glass;
- Highball–mix 2 oz of your infusion with 2 oz of seltzer in an ice-filled highball glass;
- Mule–mix 2 oz of your infusion with 2 oz of ginger beer in an ice-filled highball glass.
- The amounts above are for full-sized drinks. You may want to experiment first with half-sized or even quarter-sized ones until you find one that works.
- Tonics, highballs, and mules more typically have twice as much mixer as spirit. We in general like ours more heavily spirited, and found that that worked especially well in this case when we wanted the infusions to take front and center.