The Hooch Life

Bartenders Share Their Best Infusion Recipes and Tips

Infuse a spirit with your favorite flavors to give your cocktails a kick without adding extra syrups or ingredients.

Cucumbers and MintMy first encounter with infused spirits was in a college dorm room. One of my friends threw some raspberries in a bottle of cheap vodka and let it sit for almost a week. Raspberries and vodka is a great combination, but not when the berries have dissolved into a slimy pulp…and not when you leave the pulp in the vodka while drinking it. Needless to say, I was put off by infusions for a while.

The truth is that infusions are creative and delicious, and add a ton of flavor to your cocktails, especially when you do it right. Bartender Marshall Altier told us, “It allows for a hand-crafted element and a simplicity…instead of adding more and more ingredients. It also has the cool factor of being able to make a variation of a drink using a spirit infused with an ingredient that someone really loves, like the heat from a hot pepper infusion for example.”

How to Make a Great Infused Spirit

Altier says there are a few guidelines to follow when making your own infusions to make them taste better. And it’s easier than you might think:

Bottles: To start, put your liquor and infusion ingredients in a separate bottle or jar (glass is best), not the bottle the liquor originally came in.

Time: Allow 24-48 hours for most infusions, then strain out solids and rebottle the liquid in its original vessel. “Always strain out organic compounds. They will get bitter with time.”

Storage: Infused spirits like vodka and rum don’t need to be refrigerated, but wine-based or liqueur made from fresh ingredients should be kept in the fridge. Minimize exposure to direct light.

Quantities: “Don’t overdo it. Start with a small amount of your ingredient for a short time and taste it as in infuses. You can always add more,” says Altier.

Start with vodka: “Its neutrality is a great starting point for newbies to infusing. It’s a great place to start to tinker with flavors that you may have ideas for. Fruit, vegetables, spices and herbs all ‘cook’ well in the otherwise largely flavorless spirit.”

Infusion and Cocktail Recipes from Leading Bartenders

Marshall Altier gathered infusion and cocktail recipes from leading bartenders around the country. These recipes are unique, delicious and definitely worth trying at home:

Bazooka Cocktail with Bubblegum-Infused Vodka

Meet the Bazooka, a cocktail made from bubblegum-infused vodka and invented by Eben Freeman, famed bartender of Tailor Restaurant in New York City. “The idea behind the drink was simple,” says Freeman. “If consumers wanted candy cocktails such as the Green Apple Martini, I would give them one.”

Eben’s Bubblegum-Infused Vodka
“For every two ounces of vodka you will need one piece of Dubble Bubble chewing gum. Cut the gum in half and soak in the vodka overnight. Remove the gum and squeeze to extract all vodka. Strain and bottle…keeps forever.”

Bazooka Cocktail
2 ounces bubblegum Vodka
1 ounce sour mix

Pour all ingredients in a shaker and add ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass

Honey Nut Old Fashioned with Peanut-Infused Bourbon

This delicious concoction was created by bartender Marcos Tello of The Varnish in Los Angeles. Tello is one of the classic cocktail trendsetters in LA, helping to set up classic-inspired bar menus across the city. This infusion requires a few extra steps, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Marcos’ Peanut-Infused Bourbon
For the bourbon infusion, you’ll need 1 cup Unsalted "Dry Roasted" Peanuts and 1-1/2 cups of Buffalo Trace bourbon. “Let infuse for 24 hours. Strain through a ‘double layer’ of cheesecloth into a clean container and place in freezer for 24 hours. Strain through a ‘double layer’ cheesecloth and bottle.” (The straining, freezing, and re-straining removes the fat from the peanuts.)

Honey Nut Old Fashioned
2 ounces peanut-infused bourbon
1/4 ounce clover honey syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters

Place all ingredients into a mixing glass. Add Ice and stir well. Strain into a double old fashioned glass and garnish by expressing the oils of 1 large swath of orange peel.

Anaheim and Serrano Infused Leblon Cachaça

This recipe comes to us from Allan Katz of Caña in Los Angleles. Cachaça is an earthier cousin to rum and comes from Brazil. Katz explains that spicy infusions are “poorly amplified” in austere spirits and that the round flavors and full body of cachaça are “a warm welcome for the peppers.” The combination of mild Anaheim chiles and spicy Serranos, Katz says, “provides a nice balance between the vegetal and the picante.”

Allan’s Anaheim Serrano Infused Cachaça
“Coarsely chop 1 large Anaheim Chili and three Serranos per 1 liter infusion. Combine ingredients. Allow roughly 1 hour to reach desired spice level. Since chilies can vary wildly in intensity, it's important to taste this one as it infuses. At Caña, we like it unapologetically spicy as Angelenos don't get shy around heat.”

Now that you’ve got the spicy infusion, what do you do with it? Katz says his infused cachaça makes “a truly bad-ass Bloody Mary” but most often shows up in “Caña's most popular cocktail, the Brazilian Necktie. The first time I pulled it from the menu I received so much hate mail you'd think I was Ron Artest's right elbow. So now it's a permanent off-menu fixture.”

Brazilian Necktie
2 ounces anaheim and serrano infused leblon
1 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce raw sugar simple syruo (1:1 ratio)
1 inch of thin cucumber slices

Combine all ingredients in a tin and muddle. Shake with cubes or cracked ice and dump into a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with a twist each of fresh ground black pepper and smoked sea salt.

Jbird Swizzle with Jasmine Tea Jamiacan Rum

From bartending superstar Jason Littrell of Jbird in NYC, this tea infusion is quick and easy to make. Try it in the Jbird Swizzle, a sweet and sour cocktail perfect for warm weather.

Altier notes that “tea infusions are a an easy-to-do and popular way of infusing. They offer a huge variety of possibilities to try different teas in different spirits.” Just remember that “teas take a very short time to infuse — with the more tannic teas steeping in as fast as 15-30 minutes.”

Jason's Jasmine Tea infused Jamaican Rum
Place 4 heaping teaspoons of jasmine tea in a 750ml bottle of Jamaican rum for 30 minutes or to taste. Strain out the tea. Rebottle and store. (For another variation, Altier likes to make a black tea Cognac infusion using this same method.)

Jbird Swizzle
2 ounces jasmine tea infused Jamaican rum
1 ounce lime
1/2 ounce pineapple juice
1/2 ounce housemade blueberry syrup
1/2 ounce orgeat syrup
1/2 tsp. Don's Spices

Place all ingredients in a Pilsner glass and add crushed ice. Swizzle and add more ice. Top with Peychauds bitters. Add ice to cone. Garnish with basil sprig.

About the Author