I live in Las Vegas. And if you know anything about my town, it’s that good drinks ain’t free. A nicely crafted cocktail in a lounge on the Las Vegas Strip will likely set you back at least $18, and that’s before a tip and that’s part of the reason why I started learning how to make cocktails at home! Another reason for learning how to mix cocktails at home is that it’s just plain fun and in my opinion, it kind of makes you look like a bad-ass! My approach to cocktail mixing is really similar to the way I approach cooking: using fresh, homemade ingredients and really good quality spirits!
Lately, I’ve been thinking of ways to “up my game” in the home cocktail mixing arena. I have a couple of really great cocktail books at home, but I found that each time I wanted to make something from them, a key ingredient for the cocktail should have been made…last week! And that key ingredient was often an infused spirit. That scenario occurred enough that I finally decided to do something about it! So, inspired by two books on my shelf, Modern Mixologist, by Tony Abou-Ganim and The Drunken Botanist, by Amy Stewart, I set aside an evening to work on some all-natural infused vodkas! Now, I know that there are plenty of flavored vodkas on the shelf at your local liquor store, but you are going to be shocked and amazed at how easy it is to make flavored vodkas yourself, at home, with all-natural ingredients that YOU choose!
The process is simple. Choose your ingredient, then steep it in vodka over a period of a few days in a wide-mouthed jar. That’s it! I told you you’d be shocked! So, grab some jars and let’s get to work because in about a week, when I make a cocktail with these infusions, you’re going to want to have them handy!
I used these Weck Juice Jars for the project. The small sized jars turned out to be the perfect size since I’m already low on refrigerator space. Here’s a tip: when making infusions, don’t use your best vodka. I used a big bottle of vodka from the grocery store for these and it worked perfectly. I made four different infusions: hot pepper, lavender-vanilla, blackberry and a mixed fruit. Keep the infusions in a cool place for 5 days or until the infusion tastes the way you want it to taste. After that point, strain the liquid into a clean jar or bottle and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.
I am really excited about this hot pepper infused vodka. The Gilt Club in Portland, Oregon used to make an amazing cocktail with a hot pepper infused vodka, called Hot Monkey Vodka. I say “used to” because I just found out that the Gilt Club has closed and that makes me very sad because I loved that place! Anyway, I think the drink was called Tracey’s Revenge, which of course, appealed to me for obvious reasons! The drink was lip-sizzlingly good, but the vodka isn’t sold locally; so, I decided to try my hand at making my own.
I used a mixture of Serrano peppers and these really hot little peppers from my friend’s garden. I simply washed the peppers, dried them with a paper towel, and the pricked the peppers all over with a toothpick. I filled the jar 3/4 of the way full with the peppers, then filled the jar with the vodka. Yesterday, I took a taste of it and it is already spicy and really flavorful! I cannot wait to mix a drink with it!
The lavender in my garden is in full bloom, so I picked a bunch of blossoms and used them to make a lavender-vanilla bean infusion. Simply give the blossoms a quick rinse to remove any dirt or debris, pat them dry and place them in the jar with a whole vanilla bean. Carefully expose the vanilla beans by slicing open the vanilla bean pod with a sharp knife. Pour the vodka over the mixture and seal the jar. The infusion is very floral with a hint of vanilla flavor and I think it’s going to work very well with an elderflower liqueur.
The blackberry vodka is made with fresh blackberries and using the same method described above. Blackberry martini, anyone? Why, yes! I’ll have one!
The final infused vodka was made using Tony Abou-Gannim’s favorite go-to fruit infusion: fresh pineapple, strawberries and blueberries, layered in a glass jar and submerged in the vodka.
After I finished with the infusions, I decided to restock my refrigerator with two of my favorite flavored simple syrups, ginger simple syrup and mint simple syrup. Simple syrup is just that–simple. I use a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water. In a saucepan, combine the sugar with the water and heat until the sugar completely dissolves. For ginger simple syrup, peel and slice a 2 inch knob of fresh ginger root and place it in a clean jar. Pour the hot simple syrup over the ginger and allow it to steep. After the mixture cools, add about a tablespoon of vodka to the syrup as a preservative. The mixture will last at least 3 weeks in the refrigerator.
For the mint syrup, pour the simple syrup over 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves and allow it to steep. Again, add about a tablespoon of vodka as a preservative and store in the refrigerator.
Next week I’ll post an update and a cocktail recipe using these infusions and simple syrups!