Spirits Close-Up: Infusions

Different ingredients to infuse your spirits // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

This month’s Craft Cocktail, the Late Tea Time at Revival St. Paul, uses Earl Grey-infused gin to add flavor to the drink, so we decided to take a closer look at how and what to infuse with your favorite spirits.

Infusing a spirit is an easy way to make show-stopping cocktails at home. It’s almost impossible to screw up—pick a spirit and a flavor, and wait. Keep tasting it, say every 24 hours, until the flavor is right, then strain it. As Tom Petty would say, the waiting is the hardest part. A few thoughts:

Watch your proof: A regular 80-proof spirit will work just fine. If you use overproof spirits, the steeping time will be considerably less.

Don’t skimp or splurge: Shoot for the lower end of the middle shelf—a spirit that has good base flavor, but isn’t so nuanced or expressive that your infusion will clash.

Don’t use fresh fruit. Well, you could, and it wouldn’t taste bad. But I think fresh fruits taste denatured in alcohol—that ripeness doesn’t quite translate. It’s better to add fresh fruit to drinks in more direct ways—juicing, muddling, making a jam or simple syrup.

Instead, you should infuse…

…Tea for 15 to 20 minutes. Watch it close—don’t let it turn bitter. Make the Late Tea Time from Revival with Earl Grey-steeped gin. Try green tea with vodka, and oolong or pu-erh with blended scotch.

…Nuts and grains for 1 hour to 1 day. Wash 1 cup of oats in 1 liter of bourbon for 1 hour. Make an old fashioned with maple syrup.

…Fresh herbs and dried flowers for 6 hours to 1 day. How about a basil bloody? Thyme Collins? Sage gin martini?

…Ginger or vanilla for 3 to 5 days. Steep a large knob of thin-sliced ginger in a bottle of bourbon—make some cocktails with honey and lemon. Drop a whole vanilla bean, split lengthwise, in some blanco tequila—make margaritas and palomas.

…Dried fruit for a week or more. Think cherries and bourbon, mango and white rum, pineapple and aged rum, and apples with rye whiskey or brandy.

…Citrus zest for 2 weeks. The zest of a grapefruit in a bottle of gin will make delightful springtime G+Ts. Steep lemon peels in 100-proof vodka, add simple syrup, and you have limoncello.

About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.

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