- Illustrations by Ben Claassen III
I like to think I know my booze.
No, that’s too diplomatic: I know my booze, but I also might be kind of a pretentious douche when discussing the subject. Luckily for booze snobs like me, the pendulum is in full swing toward drinking – and more specifically, cocktail-making – as an art, and away from dumbed-down pabulum like chocolate “martinis.”
I will admit, I’ve always placed infusions in the “dumbed-down” category, primarily because they’re just too … easy. But right there is the trump card: All the work is done in one shot, batches can be as big or as small as you like, and lead time is as short as a couple of hours, depending on the ingredients, while the finished product can be served for a month or more.
Using neato ingredients helps with the booze-snob cred (pro tip: Avoid the utterly obvious pineapple-in-vodka schtick) and can be viewed as a way of extending the enjoyment of short-lived seasonal stuff, much like pickling. So, food-snob cred: check.
Yet another big plus – you can use the cheapest swill and it will still taste great after being infused. It’s not just that the added flavors mask the harsh properties of less expensive liquor; it’s almost as if the stuff you stuff into the liquor somehow filters it, or oxygenates it or something. (I’m a booze snob, not a scientist.) Infusing really does mellow out crappy hooch, trust me. Cheap-bastard cred: check.
Last but not least, adding flavor in advance precludes the need to add anything but ice for a complete and faster-drunkening summer cocktail. I-don’t-want-to-do-shit-because-it’s-hot-as-fuck-outside cred: check.
– Clear liquors work best. Whiskey doesn’t seem to absorb flavor well, but for what it’s worth, the mellowing effect remains very noticeable.
– Harder things last longer in alcohol. Melons might go a couple of weeks before beginning to disintegrate, while celery root can go for two months, no problem.
– While you can use a plain old pitcher or even Tupperware, it is very nice to have a proper dispenser with a spigot. Nice glass ones can be had for, like, $30.
(All recipes require a 3-liter or two 1.5-liter “handles,” which is the kind of bottle the cheap stuff comes in.)
Bloody Mary Vodka
1 extra 1.5-liter handle of vodka
1 celery root, peeled and sliced
1 horseradish root, peeled and sliced
1/2 pound sun-dried tomatoes
6 jalapeño peppers, or to taste, whole
6 lemons, sliced
1. Layer in this order in your container: half of the celery root, half of the tomato, horseradish, lemon, pepper, half of the tomato, half of the celery root.
2. Apply some weights on top, such as ceramic ramekins, small coffee cups or saucers.
3. Pour two handles of vodka over the aromatics and wait one day.
4. Drain off the vodka, as it will be very intensely flavored, and reserve. Pour in the extra handle of vodka.
5. Wait another two days and it should be ready to drink. Use in Bloody Marys or drink straight over ice – you get all the aromatics and most of the flavor, without the bulk and drunk-impeding effect of tomato juice.
6. This infusion should continue to provide good flavor for two solid weeks of continuous use; just refill with fresh vodka when it’s half-empty. After two weeks, refill with the reserved super-strong vodka from step 4 to extend its life by another few days.
1 honeydew melon, seeded and sliced
6 Kirby or pickling cucumbers, sliced
Zest of 3 limes, removed in wide
ribbons with a vegetable peeler
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1. Place the coriander seeds in a coffee filter, gather up the edges and tie into a bundle to make a teabag.
2. Layer all ingredients in your container, but place the zest and coriander bag somewhere in the middle to prevent them from floating. Cover with gin.
3. It should only take about six hours for the flavor to become apparent, and a day to fully infuse. It will go about a week before the melon starts to break down and will flavor about two refills. Excellent with tonic, but just as good solo on the rocks.
4 cinnamon sticks
2 vanilla beans, split and tied to the cinnamon sticks
3 pieces star anise
4 black cardamom pods
1 whole nutmeg
Zest of 1 orange
1. Tie the vanilla and cinnamon together with twine.
2. Place the remaining ingredients in a coffee filter and fashion into a teabag as described above. Use two if the ingredients don’t all fit in one.
3. Tie both the spice packet and the vanilla/cinnamon to a weight, e.g. a small coffee cup or a butter knife, so the ingredients remain submerged.
4. This one will take at least a week to fully infuse – the longer the better – and up to a month. If you top off after each serving you dispense, this infusion should last you about a month of steady use, assuming two or three servings a day.