How to make flavoured spirits

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.

How to make flavoured spirits

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.

base spirit1. 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. 

Berries2. 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:

HerbsHerbs and plants: Rosemary, thyme, dill, basil, lavender, mint, elderflower.

Fruit: Pomegranate, strawberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, rhubarb, cherries, cranberries, orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit and coconut.

Vegetables: Celery, garlic, chilli.

Spices: Cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, cloves, lemongrass.

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…

Limoncello3. Flavour matching

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.

MintEwan 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.

Kilner jarThen 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.

If you're short of time, try a quick and easy tea infusion. Our Earl Grey martini recipe shows you how to make gin flavoured with tea in a matter of minutes. Once flavoured and in the bottle, the gin will last for months. 

Chilli vodkaJo 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 or a coffee filter. Ewan says this won’t impede the flavour but it's absolutely essential, as any sediment can quickly go off.

Drinks on a tray5. 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 optional – 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.

Turkish delight vodka6. How to store it

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:

Chilli vodka
Cranberry vodka
Rhubarb strawberry vodka
Turkish delight vodka
Cherry vodka

Comments, questions and tips

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Judy Murray's picture
Judy Murray
19th Jun, 2018
What kind of percentage of sugar, if any, should be added to various ingredients?
goodfoodteam's picture
20th Jun, 2018
Thanks for your question. We'd suggest using one of the recipes above as a base and then swapping in the flavourings you'd like to use.
27th May, 2016
I've become quite a fan of limoncello and its less traditional sibling, arancello (orange). In fact, I'm waiting for a batch of each to finish up now. Zesting the citrus is a bit of a headache, or rather, hand-ache. After zesting eight lemons and eight oranges the other night, my hands looked like claws until I was able to work out the soreness. (Therthe's altho the rithk of getting pith in the mixth - it'th a real pither.) However, I recently read about another method that might make this all a lot easier. I'll be trying this for my next batches. Take two whole lemons (or oranges) and suspend them in cheesecloth above the vodka in a sealed container. Leave it for about a month, then toss the fruit. Add the zest of two more of the same fruit (thankfully only two) and leave that in for 15 minutes. Then strain, add the sugar mixture (I don't know about in Britain, but here in the U.S. we call it simple syrup). Then drink - apparently there's no need to let it age after adding the zest. The ingredient list: - 1 750 ml. bottle of vodka - 2 organic Meyers lemons, rinsed (organic lemons won't have pesticide residue that could end up in your limoncello) - Cheesecloth - Twine To Finish: - 350 ml. simple syrup (50/50 water and sugar by weight) - Zest of two organic Meyers lemons, rinsed Again, I haven't tried this yet, but it's worth a try. I imagine it would work equally as well for arancello. Dave