Lending Flavor

This all started when I found myself saddened by how much incredibly flavorful pineapple seemed wasted when I was cutting a whole pineapple for grilling. With the unpleasant exterior needing to be removed, it seemed like a certain amount of the flavorful flesh around it would just need to be sacrificed … unless there was another way to use it. Next thing I knew, I'd grabbed a canning jar, tossed the peeled edges into it, and filled the rest of the jar up with vodka. And now, I have the most amazing makings for a pineapple martini or summer brunch screwdriver mix or creative lemonade addition I've ever enjoyed:

The key to infusing spirits is pretty simple: choose bold flavors. Do you have some amazing oranges? Use a vegetable peeler and take only the outermost layer of the peel and use that to infuse vodka, rum, or even bourbon. Are the strawberries really amazing this year? Concentrate their flavor a bit by lightly roasting them before using them to infuse spirits. If you're looking to add coffee flavor to your favorite drink, start with coffee beans you'd be happy to use for your weekend cup of joe.

Beyond making sure you're choosing bold, high quality flavor elements for infusing, there are a few things you'll need:

  • Clean canning jars with tight-fitting lids: You can use whichever sizes suit your needs for this. There's something to be said for trying infusing with smaller jars to test flavor combinations before opting to use larger jars.
  • Spirits: Use a variety you'd be happy to mix a cocktail with, but don't feel obligated to get the best money can buy. Save those kinds of things for non-flavored pours. I tend to watch for good sales and rebates on mid-level spirits for stuff like this.
  • A cool, dark place to store your jars while your spirits are infusing: A closet or canning cellar works pretty well for this. Just make sure it's somewhere you'll see every day or so. Otherwise, you might forget to shake your jars!
  • Patience: It might sound funny, but being patient and not straining your spirits too soon is a virtue. Don't strain them until you've got the aroma and flavor you're looking for. Some items, like coffee, infuses quickly, but something like herbs or some fruits take weeks.

Once you have the above on hand, plus your chosen flavor elements, you want to put those in the jar(s) and fill the remaining space with your spirits. Make sure you've covered everything with your chosen alcohol. Then put the lid on the jar(s), shake them gently once, and find a cool, dark place to store them. Visit them every day or two and shake them gently again. You can remove the lid(s) to test the spirits now and again. They are ready for straining when you have the aroma and flavor you are looking for. This might take as little as a couple of hours or as long as a month or two. It really boils down to what you are looking for in an infused spirit and what you are using as your flavor element. Don't worry — your patience will be rewarded!

A word of warning: Once you begin infusing spirits, you might have trouble stopping. It's so very easy to do and there's something a bit fancy about being able to mix a fun summer drink that's brimming with the flavor of the season. Right now, I've got pineapple, orange, coffee, and mint infusions going in both vodka and rum. But hey, the opportunity to sit back and enjoy a drink on the patio that's just a bit fancy is worth being patient. Besides, it's only another six months before it will be time to infuse vodka with starlight mints for candy cane martinis!

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