Infusing beverages is kind of like modern art. Or last Friday night. It involves minimal rules, maximum guesswork, and a splash of adventuresome spontaneity. You can infuse pretty much anything, but the best results come from infusing a “life liquid,” and by that we mean water and perhaps the occasional alcoholic spirit. Think of it as a blank canvas. With a little practice, homemade infusions have a fresh flavor that is both cheaper and more authentic than artificial products sold in stores (unless you’re into bubblegum-flavored vodka; then you’re on your own).
While we’re not here to tell you how to boost your bevvies—that freedom is bestowed upon the taste buds of the beholder—we are here to help you get started. Consider this infusion 101 as prep to getting your creative juices flowing, quite literally.
While you can never have enough water, you may be bored with its, well, blandness. Hydrate in style by infusing sparkling or still water with some gorgeous grub from the earth. It’s super easy and you’ll have immediate results.
Rhapsody in H2O
Put your flavor ingredients (see some examples below) in a glass jar. Ratios are tricky since they vary depending on potency and ingredient freshness, so taste-test often! We suggest putting on some jazz tunes for improvisation inspiration. To make 2 quarts of infused water, start by using 3-5 small fruits or vegetables (more if they are mild in flavor), 1/4 of large fruit-such as cantaloupe-cut into cubes, 10-15 herb leaves or spice items, and smaller tablespoon-size amounts for additional flavor enhancers or garnishments. Gently mash the fruit/veggies and break up the herbs/spices to release their natural flavors. Add your double H O, and store in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours, then pour away for delightful refreshment! This is the perfect way to dress up a carafe for a party. Or, keep your own personal stash in the fridge for an upgraded way to quench your thirst. (Most infusions are good for a few days, though some keep longer).
- Lemon + ginger
- Lemon + mint + basil
- Lemon + basil + strawberry
- Lime + cucumber
- Lime + mint + blueberry
- Grapefruit + cucumber + rosemary
- Grapefruit + strawberries + sage
- Honeydew + cantaloupe + sage + mint
- Blood orange + ginger + basil
- Hot green pepper + tangerine + cilantro
- Watermelon + mint + basil
- Blackberry + lime
- Pear + rosemary + sage
- Pomegranate + carrots + sage
- Cucumber + mint
- Cucumber + cilantro + dill
- Pineapple + sage
- Peach + rosemary
Still thirsty? Soda is just a home carbonator or a seltzer away. Match your infused water with an equal amount of sugar and bring to a boil to create your syrup. Add a few tablespoons of the syrup to a glass of fizzy, and you’re good go to!
If you’re looking for a more spirited approach, take it to the next level by infusing booze. Infusing spirits is fun-filled, but it is also more time-filled, so patience is a must.
Let your senses be your guide! Combine no more than two or three ingredients together, and choose fruits, veggies, herbs, and/or spices. Taste the alcohol by itself first and try to pick up subtle notes of flavor. Every type and brand will be different. For example, you may identify hints of licorice in one gin, but another may taste more like juniper.
As a loose guideline, pair strong, complex spirits such as whiskey and tequila, with bold or tangy flavors that are able to withstand it, such as citrus or ginger. Pair less complex spirits with more delicate flavors, such as vodka with cucumber or bell peppers. Beware the fine line between genius and madness; you may invent the world’s most delectable concoction by marrying two unlikely ingredients. Or, a crazy combo may sound edgy and awesome in your head, but end up so wrong. Avoid this disaster by starting with a small batch and taste-testing it.
Essentially, boozy infusions look like this:
- Put your flavor ingredient(s) and base liquid in a glass jar, seal it, shake it. In general, use one part spirit to one part fruit ingredient, and two parts spirits to one part herb or spice ingredient.
- Store it at room temp away from sunlight. Shake a few times daily.
- After anywhere from a few hours to two weeks, depending on what flavor items you use, strain out solids using a cheesecloth or coffee filter.
- Store at room temp.
The tricky part is figuring out how much time you should let the flavor ingredients sit. If you’re using multiple items, begin with the milder ingredient and then add the more pronounced one – this may mean waiting an hour or even a day or two. You can also add everything together and pull an item out if its aroma starts to take over. Either way, sample often (but not so much so that you start seeing double).
On the scale of strong to mild, allow herbs, hot peppers, vanilla beans, ginger, cinnamon, and citrus less than a day; stone fruits a few days; veggies, apples and pears about a week; and dried spices one week to two.
- Rum + bananas
- Bourbon + apple + vanilla bean
- Bourbon + chamomile
- Vodka + yellow bell peppers
- Vodka + loose earl grey + orange zest (only let this one infuse for a few hours!)
- Vodka + plums
- Vodka + pear + cinnamon
- Gin + dried elderberries
- Gin + apricots
- Tequila + pineapple + vanilla bean
- Tequila + lemongrass + ginger
- Tequila + jalapeno
- Tequila + strawberries
The possibilities are endless. The word “infusion” may sound like the name of a swanky lounge with hot pink drinks, but you’ll find nothing fake about a revitalizing beverage infused with Mother Nature’s bounty. Enjoy chilled on a porch during a hot summer’s afternoon. Cheers!