Infuse Your Own Booze

October 23, 2013

Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, you can make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety. 

Today: Gabriella makes fancy pantry booze that isn't moonshine. 

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Infused alcohol doesn't have much of a middle ground. There's the lowbrow, fratty side of it all: gummy bears soaking in cheap gin, a sad watermelon plugged with a bottle of Rubinoff. On the other end of the spectrum is serious mixology, something I'll never be able to get behind -- I'm not about to pay $16 for a drink just to relive this Portlandia skit

But Halloween is right around the corner, and it's one of America's finest drinking holidays (along with July 4th, St. Patrick's Day, New Year's Eve, the night before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving, my birthday, my half birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Arbor Day). Now, you can certainly hollow out a pumpkin, empty out a bottle of whiskey in there, and call it a night. But by infusing affordable liquor with herbs, fruit, and spices, you'll end up with a quality final product that'll enhance your cocktails without blowing your budget. 

Jalapeño-Infused Tequila

A good starting point for infused booze is jalapeño tequila: The peppers are strong enough that you won't have to wait too long after preparing it to use. Simply add one sliced, de-seeded pepper for every cup of tequila and steep it in a sealed jar for up to 24 hours. When you're ready to use it, strain and serve it up in this traditional margarita recipe

Apple-Infused Spiced Rum

Apples on Food52

You'll probably go apple picking at some point this fall. And while it's all fun and games when you're romping around upstate in plaid taking perfectly staged Instagram photos, you'll likely end up with too many apples on your hands. So core and peel them, plug them with cloves, then marinate them in spiced rum. Check out the full step-by-step tutorial on The Hairpin here.  

Rosemary Simple Syrup  

I love rosemary this time of year: It's earthy and fragrant, with a depth that perfectly accompanies the cutting crispness in the air. To make a batch of rosemary simple syrup, put 1 cup sugar and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan with a handful of rosemary sprigs. (You can also sub in any other sturdy herb, like thyme or sage.) Cook the mixture over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves, then remove it from the heat and let it sit for an hour before using. A Food52 summer favorite is this Watermelon Rosemary Lemonade, but while it's chilly, serve it up with biting blood orange. The syrup will keep up to a month in your fridge. 

Black Tea Bourbon

Bourbon, neat, is my go-to drink -- so I was understandably apprehensive to mess with a classic. But the tea does add a touch of mellowness that works well for a revamped whiskey sour or a Manhattan. Proportionally, you can either go with one black tea bag to 8 ounces of bourbon, steeped for 12 to 15 hours; or 2 tablespoons of loose tea leaf to 8 ounces of bourbon, steeped for 8 hours. 

Tell us: What are you favorite infused liquors to add to cocktails?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • TheSlyRaven
  • cucina di mammina
    cucina di mammina
  • Karen Monacelli
    Karen Monacelli
  • The Wandering Gourmand
    The Wandering Gourmand
  • RebekahCecillia
Yes, my name rhymes.


TheSlyRaven October 31, 2013
12 hours to steep tea?! I reckon that would be quite tannic no?
cucina D. October 24, 2013
I am in the process of learning how to make limoncello, a delicious liquore that originates in the Amalfi Coast region of Southern Italia where they grow and cultivate the most amazing lemons. I plan on posting a recipe soon to my food blog and here on Food52 once it is tried and tested for success.
Gabriella P. October 24, 2013
Can't wait to see it!
Karen M. October 24, 2013
Grappa infused with dried appricots. Yum

Gabriella P. October 24, 2013
I'll have to try that! I'm all about grappa cherries.
The W. October 24, 2013
I want more. These are all great, but I have already tried Jalapeno tequila(which I agree is very easy but the recipe they give is week) and rosemary syrup. I might try the apple rum, but what about something with vodka. I feel the choices are too overwhelming to just pick one. Any suggestions?
minipanda October 24, 2013
One way to speed the process is to used dried fruit or heat (that's a little tricky). I put dried coconut in white rum and cut that with simple syrup to make homemade "Malibu" (2 parts simple syrup to 3 parts coconut-infused rum). That's wildly popular. Dried mango in white rum is really good. Either will work in vodka too. In general, I find it takes about 2-3 days for dried fruit to infuse a bottle of liquor and about a week or so for fresh fruit.

Once a friend told the entire town that I was providing infused liquor for his party the day before (and before telling me). You can speed this infusion process up to less than an hour by heating everything together. The trick is to keep it under the boiling point of the liquor (for 80 proof vodka or rum, that's 40% ethanol, which boils at 83 degrees Celsius at sea level). It's not optimal, and I would only do it with vodka or white rum, as I think you risk losing other volatile compounds or changing them with some more sophisticated liquor (like bourbon).

Limoncello is just lemon zest (I just use a vegetable peeler on a lemon) that sits in vodka for about a week plus simple syrup. Mandarinetto is the same but with orange peels, but it doesn't have the balance of the acidity from the lemons that limoncello has. I've also put blueberries in gin, which was popular at a party.

Good luck!
Gabriella P. October 24, 2013
Shannan -- minipanda had some great suggestions up in the post above. Limoncello is pretty easy to make and much better if you DIY. I also really love lavender or vanilla beans with vodka.
cucina D. October 23, 2013
My Nonno made infused mixtures of all kinds, this article is a wonderful reminder for me and I am now driven to recreate and his favorites and some of my own too.
Gabriella P. October 24, 2013
Oh let me know what he used to make -- always up for a few new recipes to add to my repertoire.
RebekahCecillia October 23, 2013
I was just in Peru and it was very common to see gallon size bottles of pisco on the shelves of bars with different fruits or herbs mascerating in them; passion fruit, golden berries, coca leaves, you name it. They would then use that pisco to make pisco sours. I think this should become a more widespread things in the States. I know the Capital Grill in Chicago serves "Stoli Dolis" but those cost around $15.
Gabriella P. October 24, 2013
Yes! I wish pisco was more common here...