Vodka, vodka, vodka! Make your own flavors!
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As you might have guessed, vodka is my drug of choice when it comes to cocktails, and especially flavored infusions. I love the higher end ones like Grey Goose Melon or Belvedere Grapefruit as well as small-batch flavored ones such as Hangar One’s various flavors and Harvest Spirits Core Vodka which is actually made by distilling apples. However, sometimes the flavored ones are too sweet for a cocktail or just don’t quite match what you have in mind. That’s why it’s really smart (and cheap and easy) to make your own infusions. Basically all you need to do is add some of your favorite fruit, vegetable or spice to some vodka, stick it in the fridge for 3-5 days, strain out the flavor stuff, then pop it in the fridge or freezer for long term storage. I usually use a mid-grade vodka like Tito’s or Svedka, but sometimes I like to use Luksusova, which is a potato based Polish vodka. I’ve tried many types of infusion flavors but the ones that seem to be the best are citrus ones – lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange. For those, you simply take the peels from 1-2 fruits per quart, being careful to peel them with a vegetable peeler to avoid getting any of the white pulp (pith). The ones in the photo are as follows clockwise from top left: Apple with cloves and cinnamon stick, cranberries and pomegranate, kaffir lime leaves, and pear. I can’t tell you the exact amounts for the fruits/flavors, but usually less than 1/4 of the volume and even less for spices. A few tricks include slicing the cranberries in half to release flavor, peeling things like apples and pears and not allowing the core or seeds.
Here’s a list of what I’ve personally created in the past with notes on my experiences:
Lemon – really good and a bit sweet if you add a lot of peels and make sure not to have any pulp and NO lemon juice.
Lime – pretty good but don’t put too much in or it can get bitter.
Orange – nice and sweet – a good cocktail mixer for a variety of cocktails.\
Grapefruit – one of my absolute favorite flavors – pairs nicely with Pamplemousse
Tangerine – yeah, it’s weird and I can’t remember what it tasted like but it worked – just peel the fruit with a good peeler to avoid pith.
Apple – yummy and delicate – think about adding spices as well. I use this one a lot.
Pear – nice and delicate so you might want to add a bit more fruit than usual.
Kaffir Lime – very intense but worth trying if you have something particular in mind like my Flight to Bangkok cocktail.
Cranberry – nice and tart for your cosmo!
Pomegranate – Lovely with Pama pomegranate liqueur and so many others.
Carrot – surprisingly sweet and delicate – still searching for the right cocktail to try with this.
Jalapeño – very spicy! I had planned to make something special with it, but ended up drinking it straight.
Blackberry – lovely and one of my favorite fruits – pairs well with crème de cassis or in an Oaks Lilly.
Strawberry – a bit sweet for mixing but tasty straight up.
Blueberry – an odd one – I can’t remember what I made with it but I had big plans for something even better that never happened.
Rhubarb – I made some outrageous Moscow Mules with this!
Bee Balm – there’s a reason hummingbirds love this flower – so sweet and delicate!
Candy Cane – very sweet for a sickeningly sweet Candy Cane martini recipe.
Rosemary – surprisingly sweet and works well in a festive Moscow Mule or spicy summer cocktail.
There’s probably a few more, plus endless combinations. I’m still wanting to try so many more, like vanilla for a killer White Russian and violet and other flowers for something really delicate. Do your own experimentation and just look up specific recipes for unexpected combinations and to get ideas. I found this list of 50 as a pretty good place to start. Enjoy and tell me about your experiments through my email form on the "Me" page!