Thursday, April 8, 2010

Liquors- Part I- Introduction and Infusing

I had an early start to the world of liquor infusing- my mother and I used to make homemade Kahlua at Christmas time when I was in my early teens. After she died when I was just 17, I didn't give Kahlua making another thought, as I was too young to buy the alcohol to put in it, and then frankly I just didn't think about it for many years. 2 years ago, at Christmas time, my then soon-to-be mother-in-law said that she LOVED Kahlua and I thought "I can make that, what a perfect Christmas gift and I can restart the tradition." I dug out my recipe, whipped up a batch and gave her some- she was thrilled. And the idea crept into my head that if I can make my own Kahlua, then surely there must be dozens of other liquors I can make myself.

I started perusing the internet and found a few recipes, well, actually, I found a lot, but many of them were horrible looking. I found a few that sounded good to try, and then suddenly I became possessed with an urgent need to have a real cocktail hour quality liquor cabinet so that when friends come over, I could make them any drink they wanted. Nevermind the fact that most of our friends aren't heavy drinkers, and they don't stop by for cocktail hour. Haha!

About that same time, a friend and I decided to throw a "shot night" party- where everyone would bring the ingredients and recipe for their favorite shot, and would prepare it for the group. Amazingly, this turned out to be a remarkably civilized event- more akin to a wine tasting than a bawdy blowout. We poured out half shots for each attendee in wine glasses! (I should note that shot nights are super fun, and at the next one, some people actually got intoxicated) It seems that "shot night" is different every time, and that is sort of the fun in throwing one. But I digress....The point I was getting to is that I decided to make a bunch of versatile liquors for Shot Night 1.0.

Of course, I still had some Kahlua from the batch I made at Christmas. I also decided to make Peppermint Schnapps, Grand Marnier, Galliano, Amaretto and Orange Vodka. They were a hit, and suddenly all of my friends were VERY keen to learn how to make their own! I've been meaning to throw an "infusing party" but it just hasn't ever materialized- hopefully someone will make that happen soon.

A note about infusing and flavoring liquors: So long as you're not distilling your own spirits, anything you do with them (aside from providing them to minors or drinking and driving- HA) is perfectly legal. Technically, infusing means to impart the flavor of one thing to another. Flavoring is really the same thing....but in my head goes a step further. Example: If I were to throw a bunch of crushed raspberries into some vodka and let it sit, then strain off the berry solids- I'd have made berry infused vodka. If I were to then go on to sweeten it, add more flavors, etc. I'd have flavored my own berry liquor or cordial. Frankly, its all semantics, and it sounds WAY more sophisticated to say you infuse all your own liquors.

Since the first steps I took into the liquor infusing world, I have gone on to make a few more infused vodkas- lemon vodka, thai chili pepper infused vodka (for bloody mary's), and am currently working on a recipe for Chambord. Some of the liquors I have wanted to make have had recipes on the internet, some have not (Chambord). Really, once you get the basics down, you can figure out how to copycat just about any liquor you could ever want to make, and you can also come up with some fantastic flavor combinations that are all your own.

Basically, all you need to make an infused vodka are a) vodka (or rum, or tequila, you can infuse just about any alcohol) and b) flavorings. Certainly one of the easiest places to start is citrus- it's strongly flavored and cheap and widely available. My first batch of orange vodka had so much orange oil come out of the peels that I was able to siphon it off to use a pure orange extract! All you need to do is select your fruit, and assume you'll need 2 medium sized pieces of fruit per 16 oz or so of alcohol. Take a sharp knife and very carefully peel just the zest from the fruit- make sure you don't get the white pith, as it is bitter tasting. I threw all of my citrus peels into a mason jar, filled it up with vodka (you don't have to use the top shelf stuff- low end vodka will do for flavoring), put the lid on and marked the date, and let it sit for at least 3 weeks. After that time, strain off the peels, and bottle the alcohol how you choose (I use old liquor bottles that people save for me- just peel the labels off, wash and you're ready to bottle!) You can buy bottles at most brewery/wine making supply shops too, and there are some online stores that sell bottles as well.

Of course, even if you're using a sweet fruit (or chocolate, or whathaveyou), your final product will not be sweet unless you sweeten it. Berry infused vodka will taste like berries but won't be berry sweet. I'll cover that in my next installment....

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