I have learned many lessons along the way, and if having older brothers has taught me anything, learn from others mistakes ;).
Also, I must say that I was tired of the “skittles infusions”, that seem to dominate the google search for “Alcohol Infusions”. I assure you, nothing but fresh ingredients here, and no neon infusions allowed.
This is a process called “alcohol flavour extraction” or “tincture extraction”. Extremely easy, Here is the gist;
- Add ingredients and alcohol to sealed container.
- Allow to steep.
- Strain & Serve.
- Head the lessons of others
For the purpose of this article and these photographs, I am showing a “BC Cherry Vodka” infusion, done over 7 days in the kitchen.
Lesson #1 – Choose thy combination wisely…
The truth is, you can nearly infuse anything into grain alcohol or vodka, but I guarantee nothing for your palate. I don’t recommend a tamarind infused gin, but tamarind bourbon is a thing of beauty and besides, they are both brown. K.I.S.S principal rules in the kitchen, also consider that these are already refined products.
**As a rule I use LOWER GRADE spirits for infusions and try not to mess with the “best in class” as I have a respect for the distillers and the history.
Lesson #2 – Know thy ingredients resilience…
Each ingredient you use to infuse has a density of somewhere between “fragile” and “resilient”. I recommend trying to use the most dense ad resilient parts of the flesh. I find a tomato illustrates what I mean here. A tomato has a resilient outer skin and a delicate seeded inner flesh. The skins and outer flesh are ideal for a tomato vodka but the seeds should be removed before you start the infusion. If you don’t, you are just likely to remove a “sediment” version of them when you refine. A tomato (or the cherry pictured above) has an almost “non-permeable” skin that needs to be cut, halved or sliced to open the fruit to the alcohol.
Lesson #3 – Care for thy ingredients…
Something a wonderful chef once told me was “treat the ingredients right and they will treat you right”. It never fails, when you don’t wash every skin, rinse every spec of dirt or “weed-out” every mouldy berry, you will wish you had.. Quality Control is a patient process and you should “take the time”.
Lesson #4 – Seal it!.. in glass.
Infusions are delicate from start to finish. They will pick up the smells of last nights dinner or that “stale” odour that accompanies something that spends too long in the fridge uncovered. I recommend avoiding plastic as this also lends a distinct “plastic-y” flavour. I use mason jars or old wine bottles with new corks.
Lesson #5 – Consider a quick poach, a long freeze or a wee maceration…
I did mention that you could nearly infuse anything into alcohol, but some items need a bit of “coaxing” to maximize flavour density and the “almighty dollar”.
- A fresh artichoke or carrot poached in a non-salted boiling bath for 2 minutes can help to release juices and break down the very dense flesh.
- Freeze berries like red currants, blueberries or blackberries to concentrate sugars and help to break down the skins before infusion.
- Macerate or crush Tarragon or Coriander for fast infusions or to break through the outer epidermis for better flavour quality.
Lesson #6 – Rest & shake..rest & shake.
Allow the ingredients to rest together, temperature controlled or not, you need to pay attention here. I recommend shaking the combination daily and keeping an eye on the right time to refine the contents. TASTE IS THE TEST! Taste and taste again.
Lesson #7 – Refine and repeat…
Refining, in this case, means simply removing old and adding fresh items into the infusions in “cycles”. Refining the product is entirely at your own discretion, after as little as 5-7 days and 1 steep of the ingredients, you will have a wonderful product. If you strain and add new fresh ingredients and repeat the process, you will continue to increase the flavour to the point of saturation. I recommend at least 2 refining steep cycles.
Lesson #8 – Remove & Refrigerate…
Once you are satisfied with your culinary infusion, remove all the organic material from the liquid with a double strain or a strain through a coffee filter. This will make a “product that you should seal and place in the fridge until ready to use.
Lesson #9 – Liqueur it!
Once you get to full saturation with the infusion, consider adding the juice of the items infused to a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio for a high-proof Liqueur. The above pictured is half my cherry infused Vodka diluted to 18.5% ABV. You will need a hydrometer to be sure of the alcohol %. Great gifts and party favours!