How To: Infusing Spirits

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We need to talk. It’s about that bottle of flavored vodka that you have stashed in your pantry. You should just go ahead and throw it away. Why? Because you can probably make it at home for less than the cost of that bottle you put in the recycling bin. And you’ll feel proud of yourself for making something so good. The bottom line is that infusing spirits is fun and easy. The possibilities are endless. And we’re going to give you a couple of ideas to get you started.

Before the current trend of mass produced, x-flavored vodka, where “x” equals anything from the dessert you had last night to the deep fried stick-food at the county fair, infusing spirits at home was the way to go to get outside flavors into your spirit of choice. And vodka is hardly the only spirit ripe for infusing. It does make sense to work with vodka in that it is flavorless and odorless by definition; whatever you infuse it with will rise to the top of the flavor profile.  But it is also fun to pick ingredients that pair well with the flavors of the base spirit. Bacon fat-washed bourbon, anyone? Jalapeño-infused tequila? Homemade spiced rum? All easy, easy, easy. And fun. And cost-effective! Have you thrown that bottle out yet?

We decided to let the season and region play a large role in our recommended infusions by relying on what could be found at a local Richmond farmers market for the ingredients. After spotting some beautiful cucumber and basil, we landed on making a cucumber-basil infused gin. Summer drinking often plays double-duty by serving as a way to cool off as well as quench thirst. Light and refreshing gin is more than a good place to start for a summer infusion.

Here is what you need:

  1. 1 medium sized cucumber
  2. 12 large leaves of basil
  3. 12 oz. London dry gin. Beefeater, Tanqueray, or Bombay are all fine gins. We used Broker’s for its slightly higher proof.
  4. A jar with a tight-sealing lid
  5. A fine-mesh strainer

Slice the cucumber nice and thin, and put the slices in your jar. Leave the basil out for now – herbs will infuse much faster than other ingredients. Add your gin, close the lid, and shake. Let this sit for at least a day (we did two), tasting along the way until you like how much cucumber has infused. Now roughly chop your basil and add it to the gin and cucumber. Shake and let sit for 2 – 4 hours, again, tasting until you like it. Be careful that you don’t let the basil overpower the cucumber. Strain everything through a fine mesh strainer or coffee filter to get all the solid out, and you’re ready to use.

Now that you have this awesome gin infused with locally-sourced ingredients, what can you make with it? Here are a few simple gin cocktails that make for some seriously easy summer sipping.

Cucumber-Basil Gimlet

  • 2 oz. cucumber-basil-infused gin
  • .75 oz. lime juice
  • .75 oz. simple syrup (equal parts white sugar and water)

Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker, and strain into a chilled coupe glass.

A quick note on this drink. The Gimlet is a classic cocktail from the pre-Prohibition days, back when mixing drinks was so novel that changing anything or adding any new ingredient — no matter how minor — was grounds enough for changing a drink’s name. Therefore, because this used lime juice instead of lemon, it wasn’t a Gin Sour with lime, it was a Gimlet. If you add bitters to a Gimlet (a fine addition, if I do say so myself), you have a Bennett. And if you add bitters to a Gin Sour, you have a Fitzgerald. And so on. By that logic this drink deserves its own name as well, but we’ll defer to the more modern style of amending rather than renaming.

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