Learn with A Bar Above

Flavoring with Alcohols

Photo by torbakhopper/ CC BY

Flavoring with Alcohol:

In the Alcohols module we talked a lot about the flavors that different spirits bring to cocktails. This section is more talking about spirits flavored to taste like something else. For example, lemon vodka or ginger liqueur.

Store-Bought Flavored Alcohols:

Some liqueurs can do a great job of bringing flavor without bringing a chemical taste, but it can be a much harder thing to find with your base spirits. Even liqueurs can be hard to incorporate into a bar program as they tend to be more expensive and push the ingredient cost of a cocktail much higher. Another option to consider is making your own house-made flavored spirits.

The Art of Infusion:

Flavored alcohols are created using the technique of “infusion”. This technique can be used to create simple flavored infusions, strong tinctures and bitters, or sweetened liqueurs. We’ll discuss how infusions are done, the pros and cons of this as a “flavor delivery vehicle” and the various products that can be created in the following tab.

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A Word of Caution:

Due to the heavily regulated nature of the spirits industry in the US, making the kinds of house-made ingredients we’re going to talk about in this chapter may be illegal in your state. If you are planning on using these techniques in a bar or restaurant setting, please be extremely cautious to ensure you are not breaking the law.

Thankfully, (as far as I know), there are no laws in the USA against creating these ingredients for your own personal use.[/note]

Photo by mccun934 / CC BY

How to Infuse Alcohol

While it may sound like an advanced technique to the uninitiated, infusing alcohol is incredibly simple. It is as simple as placing your flavoring ingredient into a spirit and leaving it alone for a while. The alcohol seeps into the flavoring ingredients, displacing the flavors, oils and water that were there. Those components then seep out into the alcohol, imparting the flavor.

Step by Step:

  1. First, choose the ingredient that you plan to use to impart flavor, and select the spirit you plan to infuse. For solid ingredients like fruit or vegetables, you will likely want to cut them into around 1″ pieces.
  2. Find a container suited for infusion – the key here is that it is “non reactive” so glass is a great candidate.
  3. Put your flavoring ingredients into the container, then add your spirits. Be sure the spirits completely cover the flavoring ingredients. Some ingredients can spoil if left uncovered at room temperature.
  4. Cover and place in cool, dark place. Check on the infusion frequently and taste it so you’ll know when it’s reached your desired intensity. For infusions that take more than a few days, try to remember to stir every couple of days to encourage extraction.
  5. When the infusion has reached your desired flavor profile, strain out the flavoring ingredients and store the infused spirit in a glass container.

Tips & Tricks:

  • Different ingredients infuse at different rates. High intensity ingredients like spices and peppers can infuse in as little as a couple hours, whereas lemon peels or fruit can take a few days or weeks. Be sure to taste frequently so you can stop the infusion when it’s ideal for you.
  • For solid ingredients, cutting them into smaller pieces will make the flavor extraction occur more quickly, so this is an option if you are limited on time.
  • The higher proof your alcohol, the more (and quicker) flavor extraction will occur. So if you have time constraints or you’re looking for a deeper flavor extraction, consider higher proof spirits like Everclear or Bacardi 151.
  • As with making anything yourself, write it down!  It’s so important to record how you made your products in as much detail as possible to ensure you’ll be able to replicate the flavor for a second batch.
  • Try to stick to low-water-content ingredients for infusions. High water content can dilute the alcohol content and flavor of the infusion.

Pros and Cons of Infused Spirits

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Pros

Cons

  • Infusions are a great way to capture seasonal ingredients when they are their best. Can’t get great cucumbers in February? Why not make a large infusion batch when they are in season and then use that all year?
  • Since you can make infusions yourself, you can create them with the exact strength and flavor profile that you want. Infusions can be made with multiple flavoring ingredients as well.
  • Infusions are “made in advance” meaning the flavoring task has already occurred by the time you are making the cocktails for guests. This helps speed things up during service.
  • There are no fancy tools or equipment needed – a great infusion can be made in a simple pickle jar.
  • By far the most important “con” to consider is the fact that it may be illegal in your state or country.  It is extremely important to research this before using house-made ingredients at your bar or restaurant.
  • You will need somewhere to let your infusion occur – and it may need to be under lock-and-key. It can sometimes be a challenge to find a space like this in a small restaurant environment.
  • Like all pre-prepared ingredients, if you run out, you won’t be able to quickly make more. So be sure to take the time to predict how much you will need and start your infusions well in advance so you won’t run out of your infused product.

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Photo by DC Lies / CC BY

What can you Make with Infusions?

Earlier we mentioned that the basic techniques of infusion can lead to being able to make other products for your bar. Here are a few more examples of how the simple art of infusion can lead to other products to deliver flavor.

Liqueurs:

To make a liqueur, infuse your spirit normally. Afterward, add simple (or rich simple) syrup to the infusion to drop down the alcohol percentage and add sweetness. Try not to add too much sweetener (or too much dilution), as you want to keep the overall proof high enough to prevent spoilage.

Tinctures:

Tinctures are basically very very strong and concentrated infusions. To make tinctures, use a much greater proportion of your flavoring ingredient and a higher proof alcohol (preferably over 100 proof) to ensure the maximum extraction. Then you can add your tinctures to your cocktails a drop at a time to add concentrated flavor without impacting the volume of your drink.

Bitters:

Any tincture with a bittering agent is, essentially, a “Bitters.” Typically, they are made up of many different flavors, and actually sweetened with a light simple syrup to dilute the alcohol percentage down to around 40%. A great way to make your own bitters would be to start with several tinctures (made as discussed above) and then add mix them together to get the flavor profile you’re looking for. Then add your light syrup finally a bittering agent and you’ll be ready to use it behind your bar!

A Final Note on House-Made Ingredients:

For the home bar enthusiast, house-made ingredients are a fantastic way to diversify the flavoring options you have available without spending all of your money at the local craft liquor store. For the consumer-facing bar, they are a great way to keep costs down, but perhaps more importantly they show that you are a bar that cares about your craft cocktail program and put the effort into the culinary side of your drinks.