Part of the recent cocktail revolution has been artisanal-influenced spirits. Whether these are from small batch distilleries or concocted in minute batches at a specific bar, a good infusion can create balance and depth in even the most basic cocktails.
Here’s some good news for aspiring home bartenders: Infusing spirits is one of the easiest things to do in a kitchen. The basic guidelines are the same as those of any food recipe: Good ingredients will yield good results. To infuse vodka, you need clean storage containers (glass is best), good-quality infusing ingredients, and mid-level vodka.
Here are some easy preparations that will add sophistication to classic recipes.
This is the easiest infusion both to prepare and to work with in recipe creation. Really, it does the work on its own.
- A Mason jar (or other glass container)
- 2 cups mid-level vodka
- 1 lemon
Cut the lemon into quarters, place in jar, and cover with vodka. Seal the container, label with date of creation, store in a cool, dark place (like your liquor cabinet).
This infusion can be ready in as few as 3 days, but the longer it sits, the lemonier it will be. I typically wait between 10 and 15 days. The vodka should change to a slight yellow color.
Now you have a delicious, tart vodka. What to make? For summer, a classic, refreshing Lemon Drop is just the ticket. Here’s a recipe to try out:
- 2 ounces lemon-infused vodka
- 1 teaspoon simple syrup/agave nectar/superfine sugar
- ½ ounce triple sec
- ½ ounce lemon juice
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake, strain into a Martini glass. Garnish with a raspberry at the bottom for a boozy finish. For the dessert crowd, rim the glass with sugar first.
Another simple infusion, the cucumber infusion works the same as the lemon infusion. Because the humble, water-filled vegetable doesn’t have the same face-pinching flavor as a lemon, a longer infusion time will yield a stronger flavor.
- A Mason jar
- 2 cups mid-level vodka
- 1 cucumber
Cut the cucumber into length-wise quarters, place in jar, and cover with vodka. Seal the container, label with date of creation, store in a cool, dark place (like your liquor cabinet). Like the lemon, this infusion can be ready in as few as 3 days, but the longer it sits, the more cucumber flavor it will have. I typically wait between 10 and 15 days. The vodka should change to a slight yellow-green (in a good way).
So now you have cucumber vodka. What do you do with it? Not quite as versatile as the lemon, its appeal is in its refreshing flavor. It is the perfect way to perk up an otherwise run-of-the-mill tonic cocktail. Even the gin drinkers will be interested when you tell them the vodka is cucumber-infused.
Cucumber Vodka Tonic
- 2 ounces cucumber vodka
- Top with tonic
- Garnish with lime
In a tumbler (or even a pint glass!), pour vodka over ice, top with your favorite tonic water, garnish with lime. If you want to get extra fancy, garnish with a strawberry for added sweetness.
Earl Grey Vodka
If you have ever made a cup of tea, this infusion will make sense. Earl Grey tea is black tea with oil of bergamot added. The bergamot is what makes the tea so aromatic. Many teas that come prepackaged in a bag are the dregs of that particular drying batch. Cutting open a tea bag to find nothing but powder usually indicates the tea is of a lower quality (unless we’re talking pekoe, and that’s a whole different story). Open a jar of loose leaf tea, and you should see squiggly black bits resembling leaves shriveled up in flavorful anticipation. This sort of distinction is especially important when dealing with tea where oil of bergamot is added, as the oil should cling to the leaves, and not be an added flavoring.
I typically do smaller infusion batches of tea vodkas, as they are strong and have unusual flavors. They don’t often blend well into the common spectrum of cocktails; however, any cocktail enthusiast should be excited to try something new.
- Mason jar
- 1 cup mid-level vodka
- Loose leaf Earl Grey tea
- Unbleached tea bag
Fill the unbleached tea bag (available at tea stores and large internet establishments) with two teaspoons of loose leaf Earl Grey. Twist the top of the tea bag closed, while leaving room for expansion of the tea. Pour 1 cup of mid-level vodka over. Store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 days. Because tea is meant to infuse, even a short period of time, like 24 hours, will be enough to render good flavor. Unlike a cup of tea, however, it will take considerably longer for the tea to become bitter, as is the case for tea leaves left to steep in hot water for too long.
Not nearly as versatile as fruit infusions, one has to get creative with an Earl Grey cocktail. This is a take on the White Russian. The addition of the vanilla vodka brings out the aromatic bergamot while still preserving the nature of the original cocktail.
- 1½ ounces Earl Grey vodka
- ½ ounce vanilla vodka
- ½ ounce Kahlua
- ¾ ounce cream (or milk)
Combine boozes over crushed ice, then top with cream.
Lapsang Souchong Vodka
Lapsang Souchong is a tea that is an undiscovered and unappreciated addition to both cocktails and cuisine. This tea has an unmistakable deep, smoky scent that is often described as a campfire. It may smell like a campfire, but it tastes like a wood-fired dream. It’s the whiskey of teas.
- Mason jar
- 1 cup mid-level vodka
- 2 teaspoons Lapsang Souchong tea
- 1 unbleached tea bag
Fill the unbleached tea bag with 2 teaspoons Lapsang Souchong tea. These leaves are typically longer, so there is a chance not all two teaspoons will fit, which is fine. Twist the top of the tea bag to close, leaving enough room for the tea to expand. Place in Mason jar, cover with one cup of mid-level vodka. Steep for one to three days, depending on desired smokiness. This will have a very strong flavor, which some people love, and some people hate.
While not as versatile as a citrus or cucumber infusion, it is more versatile than the Earl Grey vodka. Lapsang Souchong will add a depth and almost whiskey-like quality to the cocktail you choose to experiment with. The easiest one to play with is a Bloody Mary.
Lapsang Souchong Bloody Mary
- 2 ounces Lapsang Souchong vodka
- 4 ounces tomato juice
- ½ teaspoon Worchester sauce
- ½ teaspoon horseradish
- ¼ teaspoon soy sauce
- Dash of hot sauce
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon celery salt
- 2 lemon wedges
- 1 celery stick
Add celery salt, black pepper, soy sauce, Worcester sauce, hot sauce, and horseradish to a cocktail shaker. Add ice. Then add vodka, tomato juice, and juice of one lemon wedge. Cover and shake. Test for heat, saltiness and adjust accordingly. Strain into glass, garnish with celery stick and lemon.