Master the technique of taking the neutral base of a white spirit such as gin, vodka or rum, and infusing it with matching herbs, fruit and spices.
Flavouring your own alcohol isn’t an exact science – the relatively simple process requires creativity, a Kilner jar and not much else. The components are twofold – a bottle of booze and a handful of something to infuse it with. Add some muslin and a vessel and you’re on your way. Follow our six point process to successful alchemy.
1. Choose your base spirit
Go for white spirits such as rum, vodka or gin. Brown spirits like whiskey or brandy can be infused, but they are much more complex in nature so the likelihood of flavour clashes is higher.
As with all cooking, the best quality ingredients give the best finish, but don’t bankrupt yourself by buying the most upmarket version of your white spirit. Source one that’s clean tasting and uncomplicated – a gin packed with botanicals already sings with flavour, which may be spoilt by added extras.
2. What to use to flavour it
Here we’re dealing with a huge spectrum of possibility, so a good place to start is by checking what’s in season. Jo Farish from The Gin Garden is an expert in matching the botanicals of gin with seasonal fruits, herbs and flowers. She recommends visiting local farmers markets and being aware of new seasonal stock. If you’re lucky enough to have a verdant garden or access to forage-worthy hedgerows, keep your eye out for berries, elderflowers and herbs. As a loose guide, we’d recommend any of the following for infusing:
Remember, whichever ingredient you choose, the more you use the stronger the flavour will be - one or two chillies are sufficient, and use around 200-400g of fruit per litre of spirit to play it safe. Also, pay careful attention to…
Vodka is the most neutral alcohol base, and works well flavoured with very strong additions such as chilli, ailiums, vegetables and bags of citrus. In fact, if you add enough lemon to vodka, you’ll end up with your own Italian-style limoncello. Use popular vodka cocktails for inspiration – create a Bloody Mary-worthy vodka with celery, or a chocolate or coconut vodka to use in a White Russian.
Gin is a little more complex. Consider the natural sweetness of the gin and also any botanicals - gin traditionally contains juniper, along with coriander, cardamom and cucumber, so ensure you choose a flavour to complement rather than smother the natural nature of mother's ruin.
Ewan Lacey, general manager of the International Wines and Spirit Competition, says that mint is a natural match for spicy rum. Add lots of fresh chopped mint and some brown sugar, or take out the hard work and use his secret ingredient - crushed mint humbugs.
4. The technique
Jo recommends using around a quarter of a bottle of your spirit when experimenting with new infusions – that way, if you don’t like the end result you still have the rest of the bottle to play around with.
Add the spirit to a Kilner jar, or if you don’t have one big enough, a pan with a lid will do – it’s essential the spirit is stored in a sealed container. Ewan stresses the importance of using extremely clean kit to prevent the spirit going sour.
Then add your infusing ingredient and leave it to leach out into the spirit. Timing is important here. As a rough guide:
Leave strong chilli, vanilla, cardamom or citrus for less than a day
Hardy spices and strong flavoured vegetables will need 5-7 days
Berries and strong fruit can take around 3-4 weeks to fully impart their flavour
Milder additions like apple, melon, lemongrass and florals will take up to a month.
Jo stresses that there is no perfect time to stop the infusion and the flavour will only intensify over a number of weeks, sometimes even morphing into something completely different. The trick is regular tasting - a good excuse for an evening snifter.
When it’s ready, sieve it once to remove all solids, then pass it through a very fine piece of muslin. Ewan says this won’t impede the flavour but is absolutely essential as any sediment can quickly go off.
5. How to serve it
Although it’s tempting to try neat thimbles of your mix, Ewan warns that despite the deceivingly sweet flavour left by fruit such as blueberries or pomegranate, vodka, gin and rum is always around 40% ABV, so tread cautiously!
A slice of citrus, some cooling cucumber, clusters of herbs and plenty of ice are all recommended – you could even try flavouring your ice cubes by embedding basil or berries in their core.
Return to the cocktail formula too – chilli vodka works with tomato juice, try coconut rum with pineapple juice, or orange gin with grapefruit juice as a new take on the negroni.
Jo says this depends on what you have infused your spirit with. Dry, resilient ingredients like spices or herbs last longer, while fruit infusions can oxidise and change colour. However, if well sealed, correctly strained and kept in a cool dark place, flavoured spirits can keep for up to a year.
Not confident enough to experiment? Try one of our flavoured spirit recipes: