By Jonathan Silverstein
Somewhere along the line, I discovered that I had both a talent for mixing cocktails and a tragically low tolerance for alcohol. After a few regrettable experiments, which I cannot remember but my former friends cannot forget, I decided to devote myself to the pursuit of quality over quantity.
The big obstacle I kept running into was the poor state of commercially available liqueurs and flavoring agents. Most of them are packed with artificial flavors and high fructose corn syrup, making them unfit for anything other than a Trixie’s candy martini, the kind garnished with lollipops and washed down with Diet Coke.
It turns out that it is ridiculously easy to infuse booze with flavors. Put some liquor in a sealed bottle with some fruit, or herbs and spices or vegetables, and wait a while. Berries, citrus fruit, garlic, celery, ginger, jalapeno, cucumber and, Lord forgive me, cooked bacon work well. Not only do they taste great, but they look as impressive as all get out, and the floating flavoring agents make great garnishes. I definitely recommend using organic produce, as pesticides can hurt the final product.
A lot of people restrict their infusion experiments to vodka, as it is a neutral spirit that takes on the flavor of whatever you add to it. Don’t be one of those people. You’re a bold soul not afraid to mix other liquors in an infusion, although you want to save the more subtle ones (like the cucumber) for the vodka. If you’re using a spirit with a strong flavor (whiskey comes to mind) you’ll have to increase the infusion times.
Although the alcohol will probably kill anything bad growing on the flavoring agent, I like to sterilize the bottle before using, just to be on the safe side. Rinse it with boiling water or diluted bleach (and thoroughly rinse out the bleach).
The infuser and a 750 ml bottle of the infusee will need a proper place to get to know one another, preferably a glass jar that seals tightly, with a big enough opening to accommodate big pieces of fruit. Put a lid on it, and put them in a cool, dimly lit place and let the romance happen. Give it a shake once a day or so. Infusion times will vary from about three days to three months, depending on the intensity of the flavor you are adding.
The following are some of my favorite infusion-based cocktails. I encourage you to invent your own, and bring them to Marie’s on Tuesday nights, so the friendly bartender can sample them.
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 oranges, quartered
1 large lemon, quartered
750 ml vodka
Put the vodka and the cranberries in the bottle and seal for a week. Then add the orange and the lemon, and infuse for another three days.
World’s Best Cosmo
3 oz Cranberry-Orange-Lemon-infused vodka
½ oz fresh squeezed lime juice (no Rose’s!)
Shake over ice, strain and pour into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a couple cranberries from the infusion.
1 pint fresh blueberries
750 ml whiskey
Put in a sealed bottle and seal for three months. (Patience!)
Serve on the rocks, using some of the blueberries for garnish. You might enjoy it with a dash of angostura bitters. I like using Jack Daniels for this drink, not because it is the best whiskey available (it is not), but because it has caramel undertones that complement the blueberries.
1 cup mango (about two mangos) peeled and cut into half-inch cubes
2 kiwi fruit, peeled and quartered
750 ml light rum
Infuse in a sealed bottle for one week.
Mango-Kiwi Infused Mojito
½ oz fresh squeezed lime juice
10 mint leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
2 oz Mango-Kiwi-infused rum
2 oz soda
Put the lime juice, the mint and the sugar and half the rum into a mixing glass and muddle thoroughly. Pour into a tall iced glass, add the rest of the rum and top with the soda.