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How to Use Infused Alcohols in Cocktails

I recently finished my book Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Infusions. While it was a really fun book to work on, I did end up with more infused alcohols, vinegars and oils than I knew what to do with! I gave a lot of them way to my friends and family, but one of the uses I enjoyed most was using them in cocktails. I thought I'd share some of what I've learned, some of which is also in the book.

Strawberry basil infused rum

Ways to Use Infused Alcohols

I try to keep it simple when creating cocktails using infused spirits and usually turn to recipes that will showcase the infusion while subtly complementing it. I tend to stick to variations of traditional cocktails that are easy to tweak, letting the infusion shine.

Neat, Up, On the Rocks, or With a Twist

Expresso infused bourbon sous vide

It's not technically a cocktail, but serving an infusion straight up is the easiest way to showcase its flavor. You can do this chilled or unchilled, depending on the liquor you are enjoying. Serving it over ice helps to water it down and let the flavors stand out from the harshness of the alcohol. Adding a twist of citrus peel, a mint leaf, or another garnish can help round out the flavors.

When I first make an infusion I always try it neat, as well as on the rocks. From there I can decide which way I want to go with the cocktail I'll be making.

Classic Cocktails

Black cherry sous vide infused rye

I tend to focus on simple cocktails that use only a few ingredients. This allows me to more easily enjoy the infusion without having to control too many variables. Below I've listed directions to make many of my favorites like the Manhattan, martini, Old Fashioned, Paloma, margarita and several other classics.

Because I make these drinks a lot, it has become relatively easy for me to replace the alcohol with a flavored infusion and really enjoy the nuance it adds. Tweaking the mixer or the bitters to go with the new infusion also helps the drinks come together.

The Tasting Flight

Mint chocolate infused vodka shots

Several of my friends enjoy trying different infusions and the cocktails using them. To really showcase the infusion I'll often set up a tasting flight for them. I'll serve a 1/2 ounce shot of the unflavored spirit, a 1 ounce shot of the infusion, either neat or on the rocks, and a cocktail containing that infusion. This allows them to taste the full spectrum of the changes the infusion creates.

New, Composed Cocktails

Paloma with grapefruit foam front lit

Finally, there are many wonderfully subtle and unique cocktails that talented bartenders are putting together using infusions. Unfortunately, I, like most people, do not have the palate or mixing experience to create these myself, so over the years I've learned to stick to what is simple. If you like the more nuanced and elaborate cocktails I recommend looking at some online bar menus such as from The Dead Rabbit, Blueprint, or any of the amazing cocktail bars that will get you going in the right direction. I also have several great recommendations for cocktail books I've found that present unique concepts or further discuss the process of building complex cocktails

Classic Cocktails to Use Infusions In

You can use infusions in almost any cocktail, but here are some of my favorites, along with suggestions for which variations I enjoy the most. Have fun substituting the various alcohol infusions in these drinks!

Bloody Mary Infusion RecipeTop

My wife and I got turned onto Bloody Marys by some close family friends. They always have Bloody Marys ready when we go visit them in Florida and now they are a favorite drink of ours too. The drink is usually 1 part vodka to 2 or 3 parts mix, depending on your preferences.

The Bloody Mary is a classic brunch drink and it is fun to take it in different directions. I really like the Chile Tomato Vodka with some sun-dried tomatoes and thinly sliced chile peppers as garnish. Another great variation is using the Bacon Washed Bourbon or Dried Chile Pepper Tequila.

In this recipe I include a standard tomato mix for a Bloody Mary. If you have a recipe or pre-mixed Bloody Mary mix you prefer, feel free to use it instead. This recipe can always be tweaked in any direction you like. Adding more or less hot sauce and horseradish will adjust the spiciness, and the amount of citrus affects how sour the final drink will be.

The mix can also be adjusted on a per-drink basis. For instance, if you are using horseradish infused vodka, you may want to limit the horseradish in the mix.

Bloody Mary Ingredients

For the Bloody Mary Mix

2 cups tomato juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
1.5 tablespoons Worcester sauce
2 tablespoons horseradish
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sriracha or other hot sauce
freshly-ground black pepper

For the Bloody Mary

4 ounces Bloody Mary mix, from above
1 ounce vodka or infused spirit
1/2 celery stick
Sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
Guajillo chiles, thinly sliced

Bloody Mary Directions

For the Bloody Mary Mix

Combine all the ingredients in a container and mix together well.

For the Bloody Mary

Combine the Bloody Mary mix and the infused vodka in a glass and stir to combine. Add the celery, sun-dried tomato, and chile strips as garnish, then serve.

Cosmo Infusion RecipeTop

Blueberry foam in drink and cocktail

Cosmos are becoming a more and more popular drink. They have a well balanced combination of ingredients that helps hide the harshness of the alcohol, resulting in a strong, but not too strong, drink that people with diverse tastes can enjoy. They are also really easy to make!

In the classic cosmo recipe a citrus-infused vodka is used along with triple sec and lime juice, with a dash of cranberry juice for color. I like to vary the type of infused vodka to open it up to a wide range of flavors. Once I choose the vodka to use, I pick a suitable citrus juice or infused syrup to complement it.

Cosmo Ingredients

2 oz citrus vodka or infused spirit
1 oz triple sec or simple syrup
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
2 dashes cranberry juice
1 lime wedge

Cosmo Directions

Fill a shaker with ice and add the vodka, triple sec, lime juice, and cranberry juice. Shake well then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lime wedge then serve.

Creamsicle Infusion RecipeTop

Vanilla orange infused vodka

This is a sweet and light drink that is perfect after a nice barbecue or on a summer night. Even though this drink is already pretty sweet, many people like the addition of some whip cream on it to really push it over the top.

My favorite variation is the Orange Vanilla Vodka combined with fresh orange juice and some half and half to replicate the childhood favorite of a creamsicle. You can adjust the amount of orange juice and half and half for a stronger or weaker drink, whatever you prefer. Most fruity infusions work well in this drink such as the Lemon Vodka and Apple Pie Bourbon.

Creamsicle Ingredients

2 ounces Orange Vanilla Vodka or other infused spirit
1.5 oz orange juice
1.5 oz half and half
1 orange slice

Creamsicle Directions

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the orange vanilla vodka, orange juice, and half and half to the shaker. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds, until everything is combined well. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with an orange slice.

Fizz Infusion RecipeTop

Cucumber sour apple gin fizz

A fizz is a classic mix of alcohol, sugar, citrus juice, and club soda. They are a great way to highlight the various infused alcohols while creating refreshing drinks.

The amount of ingredients you need will depend on the infusion you are using and your personal taste. I tend to start with 2oz of liquor with 4 to 6 oz of club soda combined with a teaspoon each of citrus juice and sugar.

For many infused alcohols, especially ones with citrus in them, I will omit any extra citrus juice. You can use any sugar you like, though simple syrup or agave syrup dissolves better in cold liquids than most raw sugars.

Fizz Ingredients

2 oz infused spirit
1 teaspoon fresh lime or citrus juice
1 teaspoon simple syrup or infused syrup
Club soda

Fizz Directions

Fill a highball or Old Fashioned class with ice, preferably crushed. Add the infused spirit and top with the simple syrup, lime juice, and club soda. Stir well to combine.

Jello Shots Infusion RecipeTop

Strawberry daiquiri agar gel off

How can you not love jello shots? The favorite of frat parties everywhere, jello shots are easy to make at home and a great way to showcase your infused liquors.

You can make jello shots by adding water to an infused liquor, or creating a cocktail and then jelling it. In general, you want to use one packet of gelatin, or four gelatin sheets, for every 2 cups of liquid. I prefer to use unflavored gelatin so the flavors of the infusion will stand out more.

For jello shots with an infused liquor I'll start with 1 cup of liquor with 1 cup of water or juice. You can tweak that ratio depending on how strong you want the shot. If you are making an alcohol infusion specifically for jello shots and using the whipping siphon or sous vide methods, you can replace half of the liquor with water during the infusion process so the infusion won't be as diluted.

Jello Shots Ingredients

1 cup infused liquor
1 cup water
1 gelatin packet or 4 sheets of gelatin

Jello Shots Directions

Place the infused liquor, water, and gelatin in a pot. Let the gelatin bloom in the water for 5 to 10 minutes.

Once the gelatin is bloomed, heat the water over medium to medium-high heat while stirring until the gelatin dissolves completely. Remove the pan from the heat.

Pour the mixture into your mold or container and let cool. Once it has cooled slightly place it in the refrigerator for several hours.

After it is fully set you can unmold it and cut it into any shapes you like. Store them in the refrigerator until serving.

Liqueur Infusion RecipeTop

Apple pie infused bourbon

Liqueurs are simply base spirits that are flavored and combined with sugar or other sweeteners. They are very easy to make from infused alcohols. Liquors are great on their own, over ice, with club soda, or as a mixer in cocktails.

It is best to use simple syrups when making liqueurs so the sugar dissolves more easily. The amount of simple syrup will usually range from 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup syrup per cup of infused alcohol, though it can go higher for specific liqueurs. The amount of syrup used also depends on your personal taste preference. When using sous vide to infuse an alcohol with the express purpose of making a liqueur, you can usually add the sugar directly when making the infusion.

Liqueur Ingredients

1 cup simple syrup or infused syrup
1.5 cups infused spirit

Liqueur Directions

Stir together the simple syrup and infused spirit until well mixed. Let sit overnight for the flavors to meld. It is now ready to use or can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Manhattan Infusion RecipeTop

Nitrous oaked manhattan

Manhattans are my favorite cocktails and they are one I often turn to when drinking infusions. Manhattans are classically a mix of bourbon or whiskey with sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters. In addition to using infused bourbons you can also tweak the side mixer, using dry vermouth instead of sweet, or replacing it with an amaro or infused liqueur. The type of bitters and sweetener used can also be tweaked based on your infusion. Other types of infused liquors can also be used for variations, though whiskey and rum tend to work best.

This is a basic Manhattan recipe you can use as a base to explore different infusions. Any of the infused whiskeys, syrups, or bitters can be used in it for multiple variations. Typically the bourbon is used in a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio with the vermouth.

Manhattan Ingredients

2.5 oz bourbon or infused spirit
1 oz sweet vermouth or liqueur
2 dashes Angostura bitters or infused bitters
1 maraschino cherry

Manhattan Directions

Fill a shaker with ice and add the bourbon, vermouth, and bitters. Shake well then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the cherry then serve.

Margarita Infusion RecipeTop

The margarita is one of my favorite summer drinks. It's sour, boozy, and refreshing either on the rocks or blended into a slush. Using various infused tequilas, or even infused rums, is a great way to try out different variations. The triple sec can also be replaced with an infused syrup. For a spicy take I really enjoy the Dried Chile Pepper Tequila with a jalapeƱo slice as a garnish. The Blackberry Basil Rum also works great, especially with the Mint Simple Syrup for a much sweeter margarita.

Margarita Ingredients

2 oz tequila or infused spirit
1 oz triple sec or simple syrup
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 lime wedge

Margarita Directions

Fill a shaker with ice and add the tequila, triple sec and lime juice. Shake well then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lime wedge then serve.

Martini Infusion RecipeTop

Sous vide infused apple pear gin martini side

James Bond's favorite drink is traditionally a combination of gin and dry vermouth. Over the last several years vodka martinis have also become very popular. Using infused gin or vodka in a martini highlights the infusion's flavors and adds depth of flavor to the drink. Many people also enjoy a dash of bitters in their martini, which is another great way to showcase homemade bitters.

My favorite infusions to use are the Chocolate Mint Vodka and the Grapefruit Tonic Gin. The directions below are for a shaken martini, but if you prefer yours stirred that is acceptable too, just don't tell James Bond!

Martini Ingredients

2.5 oz gin, vodka or infused spirit
1/2 oz dry vermouth or liqueur
1 dash infused bitters, optional
1 lemon twist

Martini Directions

Fill a shaker with ice and add the gin, vermouth, and bitters. Shake well then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon twist then serve.

Old Fashioned Infusion RecipeTop

Orange cinnamon infused bourbon

The Old Fashioned is a great cocktail for showcasing infusions. Traditionally it is whiskey mixed with bitters, sugar, and a lemon twist. Some more modern variations use a twist of orange, a splash of club soda or orange juice, or a cherry. It is a strong cocktail, which makes the subtle flavors of an infusion stand out even more. Even though whiskey is traditional, an Old Fashioned also works well with rum, especially dark or spiced rums.

To use infusions in an Old Fashioned, I take the Basic Old Fashioned recipe and tweak it in different ways. You can substitute an infused whiskey, bourbon or rum, or use infused bitters instead of the Angostura bitters. The sugar can also be replaced with brown sugar or even an infused simple syrup.

Old Fashioned Ingredients

1/2 teaspoon sugar or infused simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters or infused bitters
1 lemon twist
3 oz whiskey or infused spirit

Old Fashioned Directions

Add the sugar and bitters to an Old Fashioned glass and stir to combine. Top with several ice cubes then squeeze the lemon twist over the ice. Add the whiskey and stir until combined, about 15 times, then serve.

Paloma Infusion RecipeTop

Paloma with grapefruit foam front lit

Tequila has a bad reputation as a party drink but you can tame it if you replace the shots of cheap tequila with this classic cocktail. The paloma is a traditional Mexican cocktail and is much more common than a margarita south of the border. It is usually made with tequila and a grapefruit soda, such as squirt, served over ice. It is both easy to make and delicious.

Varying the tequila changes the base flavors, I really like the Dried Chile Pepper Tequila for a spicy variation. The type of soda used can also be adjusted to account for the type of infusion you are using, for instance using the Moscow Mule Vodka with ginger ale.

Paloma Ingredients

6 oz grapefruit soda
2 oz tequila or infused spirit
Grapefruit wedge
Salt
Dried chile pepper strip

Paloma Directions

Rub a rim of a glass with a grapefruit or lime wedge then dip into salt to coat the rim. Fill the glass halfway with ice and add the grapefruit soda. Pour in the infused tequila. Place the grapefruit wedge on the edge of the glass, float the chile pepper strip on top and then serve.

Pina Colada Infusion RecipeTop

The pina colada is a drink enjoyed on beaches everywhere. It has a reputation for being sweet and syrupy, but if made with fresh ingredients it's a light, flavorful, and creamy drink.

Varying the type of rum moves the flavor profile in different directions. A great take is the Thai pina colada. It uses the lemongrass and ginger to flavor the rum and is garnished with ginger slices and a lemon grass stalk. It's a savory and spicy take on the classic.

Pina Colada Ingredients

3 oz dark rum or infused spirit
1.5 oz pineapple juice
1.5 oz coconut cream
1 maraschino cherry
1 pineapple cube

Pina Colada Directions

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the rum, pineapple juice, and coconut cream to the shaker. Shake vigorously for 15 seconds, until everything is combined well.

Fill an Old Fashioned or highball glass half way with ice. Strain the cocktail over the ice. Serve with the cherry and pineapple in the cocktail.

What's your favorite way to use infusions?