I’m pretty dedicated to DIY cocktails, so I’ve attempted a fairly wide assortment of different spirit infusions over the past few years. Most of them have resulted in success, but there are a few that I wouldn’t bother doing again. Check out my list of the best and worst infusions that I’ve tackled so far.
Apple pie spices in whiskey: This is a good way to rescue a not-great whiskey but the extra sweetness in the spirit means you get big bang real quick. Don’t let those spices sit more than 18 hours, and I caution against using a whole star anise (just half will do!) to keep the spice level in check. If you want to use this on a higher-end whiskey, go hog wild. Right now I’m playing with some mulling spices and a vanilla bean in my Wild Turkey 100 Proof. Lots of flavor, less risk.
Peanuts in good whiskey: Yes, do this. Make sure they are roasted but not salted, or get unroasted and roast them yourself before they go in. Don’t settle for salted because that will be gross. The oils make this cloudy, and small bits of peanut sediment may settle out, but give it a good shake and enjoy anyway. I still have friends ask for bottles of this infusion, almost a year and a half after our wedding! I found 3 – 4 days’ infusion time to be long enough time for the peanut flavor to really stick.
Lemon gin: Outstanding. You can put in whole slices of lemon, not just the peel or juice, and get amazing results. Don’t be surprised if it gets a little cloudy — that’s the oil from the lemon peel leeching into the gin for maximum deliciousness. Give this one no more than one week for big flavor without bitterness.
Fennel gin: This turned out great, but you should only use the fennel root. The fronds risk making the gin way bitter and gross. Also, don’t use a very floral gin for this, as the earthiness of the fennel makes a fierce competitor. Like lemon, fennel infusions are good to remove from your spirit after about a week.
Vanilla peppercorn vodka: This concept turned out to be an amazing infusion, but needs to be mixed with an equally potent partner. Vanilla beans bring way dark color to the vodka, so it ends up looking like bourbon. The peppercorns (about a tablespoon) were too hot for a few months, but as it has aged over a year or so, it has settled down. The finished, aged product pairs beautifully with apple cider.
Cherry vodka: THIS TAKES FOREVER. This was Eric’s recipe and consists of just frozen cherries chopped in half and shoved into a bottle of vodka. It went through a bad cough syrup phase for months 1 – 5. Not sure the juice is worth the squeeze, so to speak.
Rosemary honey vodka: Half the work on this one was already done for me, as I found a ton of honey vodka marked down before our wedding. I tried the rosemary infusion a few ways before nailing it. The secret is to remove the rosemary needles from the stem before you put them in the vodka. Leaving the stem (or leaving the needles too long) leaves behind an unpleasant woodiness in the vodka.
Strawberry (chipotle) tequila: Excellent. Especially impressive with chipotle peppers added, but plan on using 4 – 6 chipotles per handle of tequila to ensure you can taste the spicy smokiness over the strawberries’ sweetness. We used strawberry chipotle tequila at our wedding in the margarita machine, and it was the only type of alcohol to have no leftovers!
Spicy tequila: Yikes! Kind of a mixed bag here. As you’d expect, when it comes to chili pepper infusions, the hotter the pepper, the hotter the tequila. Habanero peppers tinted the tequila a lovely orange color, but it was undrinkably hot after only 24 hours. Jalapeno made a disappointing infusion, as it mostly tasted like bell pepper. Chipotle and ancho were the winners, with ancho having a slight edge as it produced a more pronounced smokiness in the tequila.
In summary: the best? Tie between strawberry chipotle tequila and peanut whiskey. The worst? Habanero tequila. The most meh? Cherry vodka.