Recipes

Infusions

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Food and drink are the twin hobbies of those with disposable incomes and I for one love it. But every new fad and fashion brings an obsession; this one has spread to the other side of the bar with the emergence of the home bartender.
Going out is bucket loads of fun, but given the fact that living in London is not exactly always great for the bank balance, two desires are pretty commonplace. The desire to enjoy the shoebox you’re paying through the nose for, as well as the need to entertain at home where no fights need erupt over how to split the cheque.
Don’t get me wrong; there is a certain vibe that the great bars of this world have and should be enjoyed for, but that doesn’t mean home drinking must pale in comparison. It’s nice to think about having a cocktail at home and know you’ve got something more creative in mind than skittle vodka right?
That’s why I’ve been charged with laying out some helpful pointers on the “Science of Infusion at Home”. Except that sounds hella boring, so think of this more as “How to Make Already Awesome Alcohol Taste Better and Have More Fun at Home”.
When it comes to creating your own tasty hooch, infusion is your best friend. The means of transferring flavour from one delicious ingredient to your own syrup or favourite spirit is not that hard to master – there’s a good beginner’s technique and it’s also kind of cool. You probably have most things needed to get rolling.

Vessel

This could be a jam jar (though let’s be real, who wants only a jam jar’s worth of tasty alcohol?), a sealable container (watch out for cheap plastics if you’re going to heat your infusion) or my personal favourite, the bottle you’ve already drunk one third of the liquid from. If it’s airtight, able to withstand the heat of a microwave and you’re resigned to potentially never using said vessel again, we’re in business.

Desired Flavour

Whether it’s animal, vegetal or mineral, someone out there is likely to have explored its potential and found a way to use it in an infusion. But please be careful and know what you’re working with. If you think of an exotic new flavour for your bottle of gin, make sure you won’t make anyone ill or even kill them with it; a zero mortality rate is something every home bartender should be aiming for.
Everyday kitchen ingredients like almonds, cherry stones and even nutmeg do funny (read: dangerous) things when treated incorrectly in alcohol. When considering fresh products, the less water content the better. For grapefruit vodka, use the zest, not the flesh. For a herbal sugar syrup, leave the likes of basil or coriander alone until you’re more experienced, hardier bad boys like thyme and rosemary are what you want to be picking up. Finally, if you’re diving into the dried spice rack, remember that the same little amount that goes a long way in cooking goes just as far in the bottle too.

Liquid

While there are literally hundreds of books on all the various soluble forms you can infuse, we’re going to focus on only two: spirits and sugar syrup. Spirits are great for carrying flavour. You won’t need to leave your desired flavour to soak for too long (more on that in a second) if your end product is flavoured booze but you will need to be mindful of any kind of heat you expose it to. One moment’s victory is the next moment’s failure if you don’t pay close attention.

Sugar syrup, made simply by stirring equal parts of water and granulated sugar until dissolved, should not to be ignored based on its lack of potential to get you jolly. In fact, many fruits are better extracted and infused via syrup because heat can be applied much more safely. If the non-alcohol route is your choice, there are two points to remember:
1. Blitz or finely cut fruit, herbs and spices for a better quality infusion.
2. It will perish, so store cold and keep a wary eye on anything more then a week or two old.

If you’re curious and skilled enough to go beyond these two staples I whole-heartedly advise looking into vinegars, oils and wine as your next frontier.

Time vs Heat

Sorry, but we need to get slightly nerdy for
a moment. The longer you leave something the more you will infuse it, but note that not all flavours are good (see above for skittle vodka). You need to find that balance where you infuse all the good stuff into your liquid before it starts tasting like ass (the bad kind).
If you’re working with a spirit, then steer well clear of heat. Seal up your choice of flavour and spirit with as little air in the vessel as possible, store it away from direct light and, well, wait. But not too long; after a day or so you should notice a difference. Anything more than a week means you have picked a donkey and the batch is good for one thing only, the sink. Expect some colour changes to take place, that’s fine. Anything too funky on the nose however and you may have created a demon.

When it comes to syrups, a microwave or stove top can help days become minutes, though if you’re someone who tends to fail hard at the basics like, say, toast, proceed with extra caution.

Boiling your syrup and flavour is ill-advised, but bringing it to just below boil, allowing it to stand until cool then either straining it or letting it rest a little longer (no more than a few hours) before taking out all the bits is a great infusion technique. Sugar syrup, made simply by stirring equal parts of water and granulated sugar until dissolved, should not to be ignored based on its lack of potential to get you jolly. In fact, many fruits are better extracted and infused via syrup because heat can be applied much more safely. If the non-alcohol route is your choice, there are two points to remember:

1. Blitz or finely cut fruit, herbs and spices for a better quality infusion.
2. It will perish, so store cold and keep a wary eye on anything more then a week or two old.
Straining is absolutely essential. By far the biggest rookie error every home bartender makes is thinking that once their infusion tastes great, leaving their chosen flavour in there a little longer will only enhance it. It can get a little messy, but passing your liquid through a sieve, coffee filter or clean tea towel is crucial if you want to kick butt at this home infusion thing.

Finally, the time to taste will be upon you, a moment of truth like no other. The classic motto of the bartending world is “drink your mistakes” and I’d implore you to do the same (within reason), as the motivation to improve will be no stronger than moments after a failed infusion hits your lips.
If you’re curious and skilled enough to go beyond these two staples I whole-heartedly advise looking into vinegars, oils and wine as your next frontier.

From there, go and have some fun – afterall, it’s about making social gatherings even tastier so don’t be afraid of failing. When you finally land upon your own special infusion recipe, you’ve got an extra good reason to have folks around when your bank balance is looking grim and your booze cupboard needs a freshening up flavour-wise.

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