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Most alcohols are infused at 130°F to 160°F (55°C to 71°C) for 1 to 3 hours. The time and temperature used depends on the flavoring agents you are using. For more delicate flavors I usually use lower temperatures and shorter times. When bolder, or bitter, flavors are desired then higher temperatures and longer times are used.
Making an alcohol infusion follows the main sous vide infusion process, with a few tweaks.
The first step is to seal the alcohol and flavoring agents in a sous vide bag, Mason jar or other sealed container. You want to make sure it seals so the alcohol and aromatics don't escape during the heating process.
Step two is to put the bag or jar into a heated water bath. I generally infuse my sous vide alcohol at 135°F to 160°F (57.2°C to 71°C) for 1 to 3 hours. The higher temperatures will impart more of a cooked or bitter flavor and the lower temperatures are usually best for more mild aromatic or floral items.
The longer the alcohol infuses for, the stronger the final flavor will be. One to three hours is usually ideal for me, with a definite difference between the ends of the spectrum.
Once the infusion is done, take it out of the water bath and let it cool for about 10 minutes. At that point, place it in cold water or a water bath to fully chill the alcohol.
At that point it is ready to be used however you want! I will usually strain it though so I can easily use it in cocktails or other drinks.
As mentioned, there are a few differences between this and a standard infusion.
The first main difference is that sous vide alcohol shouldn't be heated above it's boiling point, which is around 173°F (78°C). Because of this, alcohol is much more volatile than water or vinegar, and if heated above 173°F (78°C) it can very quickly cause bags (or even Mason jars) to burst. Because of this, I usually max out alcohol at 150°F to 160°F (65°C to 71°C) just to be on the safe side.
Another difference is that because it is more volatile, it is very important to chill the infusion once it is done sous viding. It's always important for infusions to lock in the flavor, but for alcohol infusions it is even more critical.
Base spirits like vodka, whiskey, and rum are the most common alcohols to infuse but traditional infusions can be done on any spirit with a high alcohol percentage. Using the sous vide or whipping siphon methods allows even high-sugar liqueurs or quick-to-fade wines to be safely infused. The liquors retain their existing flavors so the bolder the liquor is, the less the flavoring agents will impact the final taste of the infusion.
Because of this, vodka or another neutral spirit such as Everclear are often used for infusions because they allow the full flavor of the flavoring agents to shine through. White rum and silver tequilas are also very popular because of their mild flavors, which lend well to many infusions.
Once you move away from the milder spirits, the flavoring agents need to complement the base spirit being used. Infusing bourbon and dark rum can result in wonderful drinks but you should stick to ingredients that will work in tandem with their strong flavors, not against them. You will also need to use stronger flavoring agents because subtle notes can get lost in the deeply flavored spirits.
In traditional infusions, the proof of the liquor (the amount of alcohol present in it) affects the strength of the infusion. The higher the proof, the more flavor will be drawn out. Because of this, I tend to use overproof or 100+ proof spirits in traditional infusions. This effect is less pronounced in sous vide infusions and almost non-existent when using the whipping siphon.
My favorite application is to use infused alcohol as components in cocktails. The flavors add great complexity in both alcohol-heavy drinks such as a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or martini as well as lighter drinks like fizzes or sodas. You can also turn infused alcohols into liqueurs like limoncello through the addition of sugar.
Most alcohol infusions will last indefinitely in a dark cabinet, though the flavors will fade over time. Some sweeter or lower-proof alcohol infusions will start to go bad more quickly though and should be refrigerated. In general, the infusion will last as long as the alcohol would by itself.
If you are trying to figure out what flavors work best in an infusion for a specific item, you can often turn to what flavors are in the classic cocktails for that spirit. It's an easy way to see what pairs and doesn't pair with a specific liquor.
Vodka is a great alcohol to infuse because it is so mild. It readily takes up the flavors of the flavoring agents, which makes it the most versatile infusing medium.
I almost always infuse vodka when I'm using milder flavoring agents, especially mint, basil and other herbs, lighter fruit or vegetables, and citrus. You can take the flavors in many different directions and almost anything works great with it.
There are two types of infused gin you can make with sous vide, flavored gin, or homemade gin.
Flavored gin is where you take gin and add different flavoring agents to it. You want to be sure to use flavors that will go well with the gin, especially grapefruit or citrus, sour apples or cucumber, pine or peach.
I usually infuse my gin with a whipping siphon, because heating it with sous vide can occasionally cause the oils from the juniper to separate out, but here is a sous vide infused gin recipe you can follow, as well as 2 whipping siphon ones you can also make with sous vide by following the directions in the first one.
The other type of gin you can infuse at home is using sous vide to make your own gin. This process involves taking vodka or another high-proof, neutral alcohol and infusing the standard gin flavoring agents into it.
Different gins have different flavor profiles, but in general you will want to infuse it with juniper berries, which is the main addition in all gins. You can also tweak the taste in various directions through the addition of other flavors, some of the more common ones are lemon, orange or grapefruit peel, anise, coriander, nutmeg, or cassia bark.
Tequila has a nice in-between flavor, not too mild and not too strong, so it can be used in many infusions. It is also often drunk straight, so the infusion will stand out more.
For sous vide infused tequila, I often stick to classic flavoring such a lime, chile pepper, pineapple, jalapeno...generally citrus, spice, or fruit. You can look at classic tequila cocktails for more inspiration.
Silver tequila is best for the more mild ingredients because it is so neutral. When using aged tequila or mescal you will want to ensure that the flavors will complement the stronger tequila flavor.
I don't have any sous vide infused tequila recipes on my site right now, but you can use the following recipes as an idea and convert them to sous vide very easily.
Whisky and bourbon has a much stronger flavor than the more mild spirits, which means you want to be careful when choosing the flavors to infuse. Sticking with the flavors commonly used in classic cocktails is a great start, but experimenting can be great fun!
You can also always use moonshine to pick up more nuanced flavors.
There are many ways you can use infusions in cocktails. My favorite is to use it as a base component by replacing the base spirit with an infused version of it. Just make sure the flavors complement the other flavors in the drink.
Finally, they are great in liqueurs. Just combine the spirit with equal parts simple syrup for a sweet sipping drink. You can alter the amount of sugar to meet your own preferences.
Here's a guide that takes you on a deeper dive into using infused spirits in cocktails.
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Do you have experience cooking infused alcohols? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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