I often get asked what flavored whiskeys or vodkas I have behind the bar, and the truth is, not many. The reason? It is so simple and fun to create your own flavored spirits with the magic of infusion. Infusion is the act of macerating herbs, spices, or other flavors into your spirits. Love vanilla vodka or cinnamon whiskey? Why not try making your own? I asked a group of talented bartenders and one master distiller to share some of their tips for mastering your own home-bartending infusions.
Time machines don’t exist, yet.
When it comes to creating your own infusions or cordials, Joe Cannella, master distiller at Reno’s new Ferino Distillery, says, “Make sure, with sugar or other strong flavors, you start with half of what you think you need and add to it. You can always add more, but once it’s infused, you cannot take that flavor out.”
High-impact flavors such as clove, cinnamon, and chile pepper can be intense. Making small test batches can be a huge help in fine-tuning your flavors.
While many things may seem like they’d be delicious infused into spirits, not everything is. Doing research before you buy ingredients is very important.
“Alcohol is amazing for making infusions because it transfers certain flavor molecules extremely efficiently,” says Bryce Tomberlin, head ringer at Dead Ringer Analog Bar in Reno. “However, some ingredients can be toxic to the liver, kidneys, or other organs when infused into alcohol. Never infuse tobacco or apricot pits, for starters.”
There are no small roles, even in cocktails.
Not all infusions have to be the stars of the show; sometimes it’s more fun to make your own supporting roles. Making modifiers or ingredients can be a great way to add a signature to your cocktails. Josh Berreman, bartender at Zeppelin in Reno, loves to build flavors.
“Try infusing silver tequila with orange and lime for your next batch of margaritas instead of triple sec, or do an orange brandy for your next round of sidecars,” Berreman says.
Flavor combinations can be a great way to add complexity to your cocktails at home. Allspice, orange peel rum, cranberry-lime vodka, or even cucumber-mint gin are just a few days of infusion away.
As I always say, when in doubt, ask your local barkeep. I’m sure he or she would love to share a few favorite infusions with you. Happy infusing!
Photo by Candice Vivien
Michael C. Moberly is national brand ambassador and distillery general manager for Ferino Distillery in Reno and a local spirits educator. His 12 years in the industry have been spent learning, loving, and imbibing with some of its best minds, both locally and nationally. He also is good at wearing hats.
Rosemary Meyer Limoncello
(courtesy of Michael C. Moberly, national brand ambassador and distillery general manager for Ferino Distillery in Reno. Makes 3, 750-milliliter bottles)
10 Meyer lemons (or enough to make 1 cup juice)
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 cups refined sugar
3 cups water
1 liter vodka
Zest lemons, and place zest and rosemary into large glass bottle or jar. Pour in vodka. Cover loosely and let infuse for 1 week at room temperature. Juice lemons to make 1 cup juice. Strain juice and freeze.
After 1 week, boil water and stir in sugar and cup of frozen juice. Allow syrup to cool to room temperature.
Strain zest and rosemary from vodka and combine with syrup. Fill glass bottles with your mix and cork. Allow to rest 1 to 2 weeks at room temperature.
Place bottles in freezer and drink icy cold. Serve in ice cold glass with a pinch of salt on top or on rim.