This is a planned two-part article on Infusions.
What are infusions?
Infusions are flavored spirits, whether by fruits, herbs or other flavorings. Flavored spirits are nothing new. If you check your liquor cabinet, it should have one or two bottles of liqueurs, which are flavored and sweetened spirits. Make sure not to forget your gins and other specialties like Benedictine, Chartreuse, Pernod, and absinthe. As you can see, we’ve been drinking flavored spirits by one method or another for centuries. In the past twenty years or so, however, liquor store shelves have become stocked with vodkas infused with every flavor you could possibly imagine. Absolut started the ball rolling in 1986 with Absolut Peppar, a pepper-infused vodka that was marketed for making the Red Snapper, aka the Bloody Mary. Not a bad way to start off, mind you. In fact, I would have to say that Absolut is the first vodka I remember seeing ads for. With over one thousand five hundred ads to date, it’s no wonder that Absolut is one of the most popular vodkas imported into the United States. Absolut now boasts eleven distinct flavors of vodka, but aren’t the only players out there…Grey Goose has three, Smirnoff has several, Bacardi Rum has seven, and now they are even flavoring tequila and bourbon!
In the United States, flavoring spirits began as a way for disguising the incredibly bad liquor that was being consumed during prohibition (Ted Haigh, pg. 22, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, Quarry Books, 2009). Vodka came on the seen and was easy to quickly produce and distribute. Since people wanted some flavor in their booze, they started adding fruit juices, etc. My theory is that as the result of vodka’s popularity (it has outsold whiskey in the United States) has spawned this explosion of flavored or infused spirits on the market today. I think though, that there are a group of folks out there who enjoy adding some extra depth and character to their favorite cocktails and are experimenting with infusions.
An Infusion How-To
I can’t elaborate much more on the production of gin, which I did in my Bombay Sapphire review, or go into the process of producing Benedictine, Chartreuse, or absinthe. What I will do is tell you how to do a simple infusion.
A simple infusion is done by immersing fruits, vegetables, herbs or a combination of those in vodka, grain alcohol, whiskey, etc. I have been told that the easiest infusion to make is one with citrus. So lets make a clementine-infused vodka. Clementines are a type of orange…so yes, it should taste like oranges.
Step 1: Remove the peels from about a dozen clementines (they are small and you will probably need that many). Be careful to peel the clementines with as little of the white part (pith) on the skins. The pith is very bitter, and can ruin your infusion. After removing all of the peels, place them in a large, glass or food-safe plastic container. I think glass would work best because it is not porous and it is not possible to pass off-flavors into your infusion. WAIT! Don’t pour in your spirit yet! You’ve got all this lovely pulp laying around, add some of it (sans pith), not all…we don’t want your infusion to be too sweet from the sugar in the fruit. The flavor of the clementine will be in oil present in the peels, trust me.
Step 2: Cover completely the fruit and peels with your spirit. If some of your fruit is left uncovered it will rot and become one serious stinking mess. Cover tightly and put in a cool, dark place, getting it out and giving it a good shake every few days. Don’t forget to taste it either, making sure your vessel for tasting is clean. Don’t put anything unclean in contact with your vessel or infused mixture–cups, spoons, siphon, whatever. I know you’re dealing with 80 proof alcohol, but still, be sanitary. Your infusion is ready for the next step whenever you feel it has reached the flavor you’re going for.
Step 3: Use a cone filter or sieve to filter out the peels and fruit pulp. There still will be stuff floating around in your product. For some, it’s okay. For others, you may want to filter a second time through a coffee filter.
Well, what about activated charcoal? Activated charcoal can remove many of that taste you’ve been trying to achieve. Essentially, it is unnecessary. You’ll hear some folks do it and some don’t. I would not.
Step 4: Bottle and use when desired. Just remember to keep your bottling supplies clean to avoid contamination. You may also wish to refrigerate.
If you add sugar, which a typical infusion does not have, you’ve made a triple-sec, sort of.
Note: Remember that the items that you are using to infuse flavors into the alcohol will affect the proof of the spirit. Not enough to worry about, but it’s a good point to bring up.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to the flavors you create. I’ve heard of people infusing everything–lemons, to strawberries, rose petals, herbs, tomatoes, horseradish….even bacon!
I will be looking at one exciting commercial vodka infusion coming on the market very soon. So check back for further articles.
Read Full Post »