Flavored spirits, with their cloying lemon, vanilla, or apple tastes, often get a bad rap — and for good reason. Their additives may reflect some vague semblance to whatever pretty picture is on the label, but they don’t stand up to the real thing. High-minded bars, like San Francisco’s green-certified Elixir, infuse their own booze to make delicious liquors that taste anything but fake. Elixir’s bartenders mix up an inventive menu (their infusions include rose hips, Bing cherries, cucumber, and cocoa beans, just to name a few) — all from natural, and usually organic, ingredients. Embrace your inner mixologist by infusing spirits at home for a surprisingly refreshing tipple.
Start with your favorite liquor. (Vodka picks up flavors perfectly because of its neutral taste, but don’t let that limit you.) It’s important to use a good-quality brand; bottom-shelf bottles will leave a bitter aftertaste. Next, gather whatever you want to infuse — for example, berries, peppers, pineapple, ginger, mint, or some combination. My go-to combos are chai tea-vodka and pineapple-tequila (olé!). Wash fruits thoroughly and remove any stems, pits, or rinds. Chop up your ingredients to increase their surface area (they’ll infuse faster) and combine them with the liquor in a sealable glass container, like a Mason jar. A good rule of thumb is to use enough liquor to just cover the ingredients. The next step: wait. Tea takes only a few hours to infuse. Strong flavors, like grapefruit, will need a few days. Mellow tastes, like cantaloupe, may need a week or longer. Feel free to sample as the days pass until you get the flavor you want (just don’t go overboard; you want to have some left by the end!).
If your lemon-vodka tastes more too much like frozen lemonade concentrate, dilute the fruit flavor with more vodka until you hit what you’re shooting for. Finally, strain and pour into a bottle — or, if you’re looking for an aesthetic “wow” display, leave the ingredients in and serve straight from the jar. If you’re really ambitious, you can infuse several small batches and host a sampling party. Or whip up a signature cocktail using a DIY infusion. Once you’ve done the work (i.e. waiting) of infusing, you’ll have flavorful liquors that mix easily. For nights when I’m feeling too festive for a glass of wine and want to pour a palliative during a commercial break, infused cocktails are the ticket. In honor of Survivor: Samoa, I suggest a tweaked margarita.
Tropical Pineapple Margarita for Survivor: Samoa 1 1/2 oz pineapple-infused tequila 1/2 oz triple sec 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
Pour ingredients over ice. Garnish with a paper umbrella for a truly beach-worthy cocktail any sensible contestant would give up the immunity idol for.