My go-to spirit for mixing up a drink has long been tequila, and I love creating cocktails that deviate from the traditional. From making flavored syrups to using burnt herbs, I’ve experimented with many flavors and styles of mixology. (One can have only so many vodka sodas before taste buds beg for something more.) In my hunt for a cocktail that would satisfy my craft craving, I found that infusing alcohol is a fantastic way to give a cocktail a unique twist. Even better, making your own alcohol infusions at home is easy.
Infusions are more about experimentation and less about following a recipe. So, throw away the rule books and discover what you like. How, you ask? Well, by tasting, of course.
Alcohol is excellent at extracting flavors because it dissolves them quickly. Depending on the alcohol variety you choose, it can take a few hours to a couple of days to fully infuse your spirit. But why infuse alcohol in the first place? It’s all about complementing flavors. Infusions allow you to get the essence of an ingredient without adding solids or liquids that could otherwise dilute or compromise the cocktail. The goal is to extract the purest flavors, essential oils and natural aromas. Plus, if you’re a control freak like me, you’ll love the power to pick the exact ingredients of your infusions. Store-bought flavored and infused liquors often have additives and artificial flavorings, which definitely don’t help with hangovers.
For this round of infusions, I decided to use tequila as my base spirit. It’s perfect for Cinco de Mayo, which is right around the corner.
Obviously, there are a ton of tequila varieties to choose from. Blanco or silver tequila is the most neutral because it’s not aged at all. Reposado tequilas are barrel-aged for a few months and therefore take on some flavor from the barrel (that’s also why they have a light golden color). Higher-end and añejo tequilas are aged longer (usually one year or more) and are typically enjoyed neat or for sipping.
I decided to stick to the simple nature of tequila and use blanco. Sure, it’s the cheaper option, but good news: Infusions are perfect for giving a less expensive bottle a gourmet flair. And, if you’re a novice at the whole alcohol-infusing thing, starting cheap and in small batches is the smartest way to learn.
How to infuse spirits
What you’ll need to make two infusion batches of one pint each:
750 milliliters tequila
Flavors to infuse (see below for the full list I experimented with)
4 pint-sized Mason jars or a large airtight glass container
Tape or labels and a marker
I began my experimenting in small Mason jars because they hold enough tequila (4 ounces) to make two cocktails. No need to infuse a full bottle of tequila. Start small, and when you discover a combination you like, make a larger batch.
Ingredients such as teas and dried chilies need only a few hours for the alcohol to take on the flavor. Harder spices and roots such as ginger take longer, and chilis intensify the kick of the alcohol the longer they soak.
When making infusions, taste each — let’s call them lab liquors — every few hours. (It’s a tough job, I know). First, sniff them. Then, using a small spoon to taste, identify the flavor intensity and decide if the infusion is done or needs to sit longer. This is based entirely on personal preference.
For more subtle infusions, reduce the ratio of infusion ingredients or steep for less time. This method allows you to control the potency of the ingredient in the infusion.
Also, don’t forget to label the infusions with the ingredient and note how long it took to get the desired result.
When you’re satisfied with the infusions, it’s time to make larger batches of your favorites. My favorites were:
Dried arbol chili (without seeds)
For the larger batches, I used pint Mason jars. They’re large enough to infuse tequila for several cocktails.
Here are the instructions:
Wash and dry the Mason jars. The last thing you want is dust getting in the way of your flavor infusions.
Add about 2/3 cup of loosely packed ingredients to the bottom of each pint Mason jar.
Add 300–350ml of tequila, enough to fill each jar to the top.
Let the tea and chili infuse for 4–5 hours. For ginger, allow the infusion to sit for 1–3 days.
When the infusion is complete, strain it into a different, clean jar. Use a coffee filter to get any small solids out of the tequila.
Now, you’re ready to make cocktails.
3 infused cocktails
I created three cocktails with my ginger, arbol chili and vanilla chai-infused tequilas.
Ginger green tea “ZEN-garita”
This twist on a traditional on-the-rocks margarita uses the ginger-infused tequila and some green tea. Get the recipe here.
Frozen mango lava margarita
The dried arbol chili-infused tequila gives this tropical blended cocktail a perfect balance of sweet and heat. Get the recipe here.
Vanilla chai-tea dessert margarita
Drink your dessert! I used the vanilla chai tea-infused tequila and added chocolate, cinnamon and chili to create a cocktail that’s all about unexpected flavors, subtle sweetness and a boozy finish. Get the recipe here.
Got leftover infusions? Store them in a dark, cool, dry place for 1–2 weeks.
Happy infusing, folks! Let me know what experiments you try and how they turn out by tagging @HomeOfTheHolidays or #Holidays365.