DIY Infused Vodka Is the Creative Outlet You and Your Craft Cocktails Have Been Waiting For
Great vodka tastes like...well, nothing. Rather than a fault, flavorlessness in this form of spirit is deemed a virtue. This is why many serious mixologists and drink lovers tend to prefer more "charismatic" spirits, like gin, aged rum, and rye whiskey.
Infused with new flavor, however, vodka can be made far more compelling.
How to Get Started Infusing Vodka
Infusing vodka is a little different from infusing other spirits. Because of its neutrality, vodka is open, a clean slate, an empty canvas. When you add flavors, you don't have to think about how they would combine with flavors already in the spirit, as you do for tequila or bourbon.
The process of infusing is exactly the same. What you need is a tightly sealable glass vessel (like a mason jar), vodka, ingredients to infuse, and time.
The process is long but takes little work. To begin, thoroughly clean your glass container with soap and hot water. Next, add the fruit, herbs, and/or spices you want to infuse into your vodka, washing them beforehand. Finally, pour in vodka to cover these ingredients, seal the jar, and leave it in a dark place for one to four weeks.
Tips for Infusing Vodka to Perfection
While those ingredients sit and infuse themselves into the spirit, you'll want to make sure that they stay below the vodka meniscus. This prevents unwanted microbes from developing (and keeps your spirit safe). If some pokes above, no problem. Just shake your vessel every day or two.
Why does the suggested infusion period have so much variation? The longer you infuse your ingredients, the more they lend their flavor to the vodka. (This is for the same reason that tea steeped for longer grows more intense.) If you really want the flavor of an ingredient to come through, infuse for up to a month.
Another factor to consider: The more of an ingredient you add, the more powerfully it will flavor the final vodka. Knowing this, there's an easy hack: To save on food costs and to prevent waste, use less ingredients and steep those ingredients for longer. This builds the same flavor intensity as steeping more ingredients over a shorter timeframe.
Once your vodka has absorbed the amount of flavor you want, remove the solid ingredients. Discard these—unless, of course, the ingredients are great for eating right then and there or putting on ice cream, like if you have vodka-soaked berries (yum). Finally, strain your vodka to screen out any tiny solid bits. Now, your infused vodka is ready for the bar shelf or cocktails.
Great Flavors for Infusing Vodka
When thinking about flavors to infuse, ask yourself what flavors you like in a cocktail. Tailor your infused vodka to these. Some common vodka infusions are ginger, herbs (like basil, rosemary, and mint), and fruit (berries and citrus). Mix and match. Ginger and basil work. So does ginger and lemon, or strawberries and mint. Hey, even olive oil can bring something.
Think about, also, what vodka cocktails you like. If you're big on Moscow mules, a ginger-herb vodka might make sense. Similarly, if you're a Blood Mary drinker, then a rosemary-infused vodka might hit the spot given how well rosemary and tomato pair.
Though you can take vodka down many different flavor paths, you might want to avoid some. Cinnamon, while excellent for flavoring bourbon, can be too much for vodka. Slices of jalapeño might elevate tequila, but they tend to give a little too much kick to vodka—which has minimal starting flavor to balance out the heat.
Another approach is to use unwanted parts of the fruit. For instance, the tough fibrous core of a pineapple often ends up trashed. Sliced thin, it makes for just as nice a vodka infuser as the more prized flesh of the fruit. And citrus skins can bring perfumy notes to vodka, so long as the bitter white inner pith is removed. (Bonus: with lemon-infused vodka, you're just sugar and water away from limoncello.)
Whether or not vodka is your go-to spirit, an infusion can take the spirit to bright new places—and do so without any added sugar. Infusing vodka can bring custom flavor, vibrant personality, and DIY charm to your cocktail glasses and home bar.