The holidays are around the corner, along with all the festivities that accompany this busy season of joy. These events bring together friends, families, and co-workers for various occasions of celebration, which cleverly often include cocktails to make things interesting. While your personality is most certainly magnetic, you can’t always say the same for everyone in your circle of acquaintances. However, a good drink is certain to keep the conversation and cocktails flowing especially if you infuse your cocktail with natural ingredients.
But what exactly makes a good drink? Something with a strong and flavorful personality, but ideally not as overbearing and artificial as Karen from the media department. Professional bartenders know that the best cocktails are created with fresh ingredients, which means infusing base spirits with fruits, spices, and herbs to achieve their perfection. It seems daunting for the casual drink maker, but it just takes a little creativity and an infusion tool like the Alkemista, which can do all the infusing, storing, and pouring. If you like to experiment with flavors, (or to busy yourself behind the bar to escape conversing with Karen), you’ll want to become an infusion expert. It’s a solid way to secure yourself a spot as the life of the party and to tap into your inner artist as you paint the blank canvas of a base spirit with flavor.
First, Let’s Talk About Those Base Spirits
Some might say that it’s all about the base, but really, it’s what you do with the base that makes a cocktail stand out. So, start with a good base. Here are a few of my favorites:
Vodka is an ideal starting point for infusion beginners, as it lacks a prominent flavor. As long as you steer clear of the commercial-flavored vodkas, it’s a neutral spirit that plays well with pretty much everything.
Gin can be harder to work with since it’s already distilled with botanicals and herbs. However, it is still considered a neutral, and one that works well with citrus. Think a cocktail of gin infused with grapefruit and ginger. Yes. Go try that.
Bourbon, Scotch, and Whiskey
Classic, aged spirits to infuse as you perfect your new craft, but you may want to proceed with caution when working with ones particularly strong in flavor. Maybe don’t serve those infusions at the first party you attend, unless Karen’s doing the tasting.
Next, the Infusion Ingredients
When considering infusion ingredients, your own creativity is really your only limit. A tool like the Alkemista can work with pretty much anything- fruits, vegetables, herbs, botanicals, nuts, you name it. You’ll just put the ingredients into the stainless-steel filter and let the aromas and flavors steep into the base spirit from there. What makes Alkemista my favorite infusion tool is that the ultra-fine filter keeps ingredient particles from entering the spirit. And the filter can be easily removed, so you can use Alkemista to store and pour your spirit as well.
And Some Infusion Tips
- When experimenting with new infusions, don’t use the whole bottle of the base alcohol on the first try. That way, in case the result isn’t quite up to your fine taste, you can give the infusing another go with the rest of the spirit.
- As a rule, the longer the infusion ingredients steep into your base alcohol, the bolder the flavor will be. However, do note that the ingredients will reach a point where they do not have more flavor to release.
- Flavors can be combined! Think apple cinnamon or lemon basil. If you are combining flavors that are similar in strength, you’ll want to mix and steep them together. If you use an intense flavor along with a milder one (like vanilla and orange), begin infusing with the quieter element, and add the stronger ingredient afterward, usually after two or three days.
- Timing is everything. And timing will vary. Some ingredients like hot peppers can offer intense flavor in just one day of infusing, while others, like dried spices, may need up to two weeks to release noticeable flavor.
Shaken or stirred? If you enjoy your shaken cocktails, then you will want a quality shaker. Shaker 33 is the best addition to your home bar. In my past life as a bartender, I always hated the metal shaker. It would start to freeze to your hand, causing you to loosen your grip, and it would begin to leak. With Shaker 33, you won’t have those problems. Made out of plastic, there is no more freezing to your hand. Shaker 33 also has a leak-proof design to avoid a messy clean up on your counters. Shaker 33 is the perfect gift for the home bar.
- Made of lightweight acrylic
- Shatterproof BPA-free Tritan™ plastic
- 24 oz. large format to enable large cocktail batches to be mixed at once
- Leak-proof featuring an easy-to-open, lockable lid with a Dual Flow strainer for a slow or quick pour
- Low condensation- chills drinks, not hands
- Non-slippery and one-handed mixing capability
- top rack dishwasher safe
Finally, The Good Stuff: The Cocktails
The best part about learning the art of infusing is sampling your craft along the way. Enjoy this process of creation! Here are a few of my favorite infused cocktails, created with my handy Alchemist.
Black Currant Vodka
- 10g fresh black currants (or dried)
- 5g fresh lemon peel (or dried)
- 5g dried honeysuckle flowers (optional)
- 750ml vodka
- Add all ingredients to Alkemista filter
- Add vodka
- Infuse 24-48 hours (based on desired flavor intensity)
- Enjoy as-is or mix it up into a festive drink
Pine Infused Whisk(e)y
20-30g fresh pine needles
3-4 slices fresh lemon peel
750 ml bourbon whisk(e)y or peaty Scotch (like Laphroaig)
- Cut pine needles into ¼” pieces and muddle in glass
- Add all ingredients to Alkemista filter
- Add whisk(e)y or Scotch
- Infuse for five days
- Optional: for a sweeter version, add 1 TBL of dark maple syrup after infusion is complete
Turn the Pine-Infused Whisk(e)y into a Cocktail:
Place Beyond the Pines, a twist on a classic Old-Fashioned that’s perfect for winter
- 2 oz Pine Infused Whisk(e)y
- 3/8 oz simple syrup
- Two dashes lemon bitters
- Build over large ice cube in an Old Fashioned glass
- Garnish with a lemon twist
For additional infusion and cocktail recipes, or more information on Alkemista, you can visit ethanashe.com. They’re always working with new ingredients and posting drink suggestions too. If nothing else, you can just follow their lead. But if you’ve experimented with alcohol infusions, I’d love to hear! Drop me a line or comment below with your tips and tricks. Cheers!