Patrick Decker

How To: Infuse Your Own Spirits

I love a good flavored spirit: citrus vodkas, pineapple & chili tequilas, even the occasional cucumber gin.  I’m not sure where along the way we veered into the murky waters of making our cocktails taste like birthday cake or gummy fish candy by way of some chemical flavorings, but don’t worry – I’m here to help get us safely back to center.

As you sip & savor the remaining summer nights ahead, breathe some refreshment into your cocktails by infusing your own spirits with some of these classic, all-natural flavors.

THE GROUND RULES

First things first – there’s not really much at all to go wrong here, so don’t worry about anything not turning out.  Basically by putting these ingredients in with the spirit and letting them sit for a few days, they’ll take on that ingredient’s flavor.  Within reason (and depending on the strength of the ingredient’s flavor), the longer you leave it in there, the more flavor it will impart.

When selecting your spirit at the store, you don’t have to reach for the top shelf stuff.  Do make sure, though, that you’re using a brand of spirit that you’d like to drink on its own.

A good rule of thumb is to start with 3 days of marinating time in a covered container in the refrigerator.  Taste it after three days and feel free to leave it longer if you want more flavor.  Once infused, strain the flavorings out and the spirits will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

VODKA

Vodka is the ideal spirit to infuse because it’s inherently very mild if not completely flavorless.  It will take on almost any flavor you want to infuse it with, hence why it’s so often seen with flavorings on store shelves.  These two ideas are only the tip of the iceberg for what you can use here.

Berries Mash 2 cups of mixed berries in the bottom of a large pitcher and pour a 750 mL bottle of vodka over them (save the bottle).  Cover the pitcher with plastic wrap and steep in the refrigerator for 3 days (up to 5 days if desired).  Strain the vodka back into its bottle (discarding the berry pulp) and serve with your favorite mixer or cocktail recipe.

Lemon Mash 2 thinly sliced lemons in the bottom of a large pitcher and pour a 750 mL bottle of vodka over them (save the bottle).  Cover the pitcher with plastic wrap and steep in the refrigerator for 3 days (up to 5 days if desired).  Strain the vodka back into its bottle (discarding the lemon pulp) and serve with your favorite mixer or cocktail recipe.

GIN

Gin’s botanical flavorings vary with each brand and generally lend themselves very well to “green” flavors – lime, cucumber, herbs, etc.  Try these brighter flavors for the summer time and experiment with a heartier flavor like allspice or star anise this fall and winter.

Cucumber Pour a 750 mL bottle of gin into a large pitcher (save the bottle) and add in 1 large thinly sliced cucumber.  Cover the pitcher with plastic wrap and steep in the refrigerator for 3 days (up to 5 days if desired).  Strain the gin back into its bottle (discarding the cucumbers) and serve with your favorite mixer or cocktail recipe.

Cilantro Pour a 750 mL bottle of gin into a large pitcher (save the bottle) and add in 1 large bunch of washed cilantro stems and leaves.  Cover the pitcher with plastic wrap and steep in the refrigerator for 3 days (up to 5 days if desired).  Strain the gin back into its bottle (discarding the cilantro) and serve with your favorite mixer or cocktail recipe.

RUM

In the warmer months I tend to reach for a clear rum.  If you’re a fan of a slightly more hearty cocktail, reach for a dark or even spiced rum.  The fruits I suggested here are brighter flavors, so you can bring out the spice notes of a darker rum using cherries, plums or even black peppercorns.

Melon Pour a 750 mL bottle of rum into a large pitcher (save the bottle) and add in 3 cups of peeled, chopped melon (such as watermelon or cantaloupe).  Cover the pitcher with plastic wrap and steep in the refrigerator for 3 days (up to 5 days if desired).  Strain the rum back into its bottle (discarding the cucumbers) and serve with your favorite mixer or cocktail recipe.

Mango Pour a 750 mL bottle of rum into a large pitcher (save the bottle) and add in 2 cups of peeled, chopped mango (from about 2 mangos).  Cover the pitcher with plastic wrap and steep in the refrigerator for 3 days (up to 5 days if desired).  Strain the rum back into its bottle (discarding the mango) and serve with your favorite mixer or cocktail recipe.

TEQUILA

Saving the best for last, it’s my favorite summer spirit – tequila!  While I’m a silver purist through and through – I prefer the grassy agave flavor – gold tequilas certainly have their place at the table too.  Tequila is the place to go bold!  Try infusing grilled fruits, chiles, maybe even smoked bacon or chorizo (both cooked, of course).  Why not, after all?  You only live once.

Mint Pour a 750 mL bottle of tequila into a large pitcher (save the bottle) and add in 1 large bunch of washed mint stems and leaves.  Cover the pitcher with plastic wrap and steep in the refrigerator for 3 days (up to 5 days if desired).  Strain the tequila back into its bottle (discarding the mint) and serve with your favorite mixer or cocktail recipe.

Chiles Pour a 750 mL bottle of rum into a large pitcher (save the bottle) and add in 2 thinly sliced jalapenos with the seeds.  Cover the pitcher with plastic wrap and steep in the refrigerator for 2 days (up to 5 days if desired – proceed with caution).  Strain the tequila back into its bottle (discarding the chiles and seeds) and serve with your favorite mixer or cocktail recipe.

Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Marc Forgione, Bobby Deen and Paula Deen, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following him on Instagram at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.


2 Responses to “How To: Infuse Your Own Spirits”

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