DIY Infused Vodka

Make your own fancy cocktails at home

Story by Meredith S. Jensen • Recipes by Andrea Lewis

Despite the myriad tools, recipes, and tutorials for making your own cocktails at home, many people stick to a simple rule: cocktails at the bar, beer and wine at home. Shake up the routine and live a little! Great cocktails are made easy with creative bases like infused vodkas.

Made with simple ingredients in simple containers, there are fewer chances you’ll gum up the works making infused vodka than with, say, home brewing. You need a cheap bottle of booze; some fruit, veg, herbs, and spices; a couple of mason jars; and time. With enough creative freedom, your liquor cabinet may resemble an apothecary more than a bar. Here are some tips to get you started.

      1. THINK AHEAD: Decide ahead of time what sorts of cocktails you’d like to make to determine what would be best to infuse. Try Serrano and habanero peppers for a spicy vodka base for a bloody mary. (Opt for red and yellow bell peppers or pickles for something milder.) Blueberry-infused vodka fairs well in lemonade and cucumber vodka can make you feel chill, while pineapple or watermelon can add the right touch of fresh sweetness to a cocktail. Strawberry and basil are a taste of summer in a sip and the combination of fig, vanilla, and cardamom can bring the warmth as summer stretches into autumn. Experiment with your own combinations. Just remember to taste along the way.
      2. DON’T MAKE TOO MUCH: You don’t have to make an entire bottle of vodka’s worth—unless you want to! Use different-sized clean mason jars (pint, quart, half gallon, etc.) as a measuring guide. You can always make more.
      3. DON’T REACH FOR THE TOP SHELF: While we recommend having a nice bottle of vodka around for regular use, the cheap stuff is good enough for an infusion. You’ll be getting all your flavors from the goodies inside anyway.
      4. PICK QUALITY INGREDIENTS: While you can skimp on the booze, don’t skimp on the infusion ingredients. Get the freshest herbs and produce you can find.
      5. MIND YOUR MISE EN PLACE: Proper preparation is key.
        • Whole herbs — use both leaves and stems
        • Citrus — Slice thin or use zest
        • Vegetables, fruit with tough skin/rinds/pits/shells — remove skin and seeds or pits, chop
        • Fruit with soft skin — keep skin on, remove seeds or pits, chop
        • Berries — Leave whole
        • Ginger — Skin and slice thin
        • Vanilla bean — Split down the middle
        • Other spices — Crush with mortar and pestle
      6. IT’S INFUSION TIME: You’ll want to work with one to three ingredients at a time; anything more muddles the flavors. Fill your jar one half to one third with your infusion ingredient, and then add the vodka, taking care to completely cover your ingredients. Use a ratio of one part (most) fruits and vegetables to one part vodka; 1:2 for fresh herbs, peppers and citrus; and 1:3 for most dried spices. (Some spices can be mighty powerful. Per one cup of vodka, use only one vanilla bean pod. For cinnamon, use 3-5 sticks per cup of vodka.)
      7. STEEPING TAKES PATIENCE: You should shake your jar occasionally, but that’s about it. You just need time for the magic to happen. Here’s a general guideline from Serious Eats:
        • Herbs, hot peppers, vanilla beans, ginger, cinnamon, citrus: 1 to 3 days
        • Melons, sweet peppers, berries, stone fruits: 3 to 6 days
        • Cucumbers, most vegetables, apples, pears: 5 to 7 days
        • Most dried spices: 8 to 14 days
          The best way to ensure a successful infusion is simply to taste you as you go. When infusing multiple ingredients, add them in the above order throughout your steeping days to time their optimal flavor release. Some sediment may still be visible, but if you see anything resembling mold or other suspect “floaters,” pour it out.
      8. FEEL THE STRAIN: When ready, filter your infusion through a fine mesh strainer, followed by cheesecloth or muslin. Filter out as many bits as possible so they don’t throw off your flavors. Some sediment may still be visible, but if you see anything resembling mold or other suspect “floaters,” pour it out.

Bonus Bar Knowledge: TINCTURES

A tincture is an infused spirit, but far more concentrated, higher proof, and infused longer. Moonshine and other high-test liquors are often used, but good quality vodka works as well. Tinctures work by isolating herbs’ medicinal extracts and are often used for ailments or for crafting cocktails. While we can’t speak to the medicinal side of things, to make tinctures to flavor your drinks, follow the same steps above but adjust for the following:

  • Use a high-proof alcohol (at least 80 proof)
  • Let sit in a cool, dark place for up to six weeks
  • Store in amber or cobalt glass tincture bottles
Photo by Sam Girton

BLOODY MARY INFUSED VODKA

  • Mid-shelf vodka
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes
  • habanero peppers
  • 3 vodka cloves
  • 8 celery stalks
  • 1 Tablespoon peppercorn

Seal your container and allow it to steep for a week in the fridge. When you are ready to use it, strain. Discard the tomatoes, and reserve a few celery stalks and a hot pepper. Put the strained vodka back in the jar with the reserved vegetables.

The best part about infusing the celery and other flavors is you will need minimal ingredients to complete the classic bloody mary cocktail.

CLASSIC BLOODY MARY COCKTAIL

  • Lemon wedge
  • 2 oz. infused vodka
  • 4 oz. tomato juice
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce

If you need to kick up the heat, add a dash of Tabasco sauce or a teaspoon of prepared horseradish

Garnish with a celery stalk, lemon wedge and a few olives.

Photo by Sam Girton

KIWI CUCUMBER MOSOW MULE

  • 2 oz. kiwi cucumber infused vodka
  • 3 oz. ginger beer
  • a squeeze of fresh lime (one wedge)

Fill a copper mug with crushed ice, add all ingredients and garnish with a slice of cucumber and kiwi

When preparing to make your own infusions – think about storage and choose wisely. Mason jars or French canning jars are a great choice because you can obtain an airtight seal. As a bonus they have a large enough mouth so you can get your ingredients into the jar without crushing or having to cut into smaller pieces. | Photo by Sam Girton