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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
Combine all the ingredients in a container and mix together well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 jalapeño slice as a garnish. The Blackberry Basil Rum also works great, especially with the Mint Simple Syrup for a much sweeter margarita.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.