So Christmas is just a few days away and you messed up. You’ve missed the 2-day Amazon Prime shipping window to get all your loved ones copies of 21st Century Mahan and now you find yourself without gifts to give. While this is quite a predicament to be in, fear not loyal Molotov Cocktail readers, booze to the rescue!
Now sure, you could just go the store and procure a perfectly nice bottle of scotch or Fernet Branca for that special someone, but even the most thoughtfully purchased commercial hooch can feel a bit impersonal. And of course you could buy them a nice piece of equipment for their home bar, but do people really need more stuff? No, no, you need to wow the receiver, show that you care, and pull out all the stops.
On this blog we’ve taught you how to craft your own libations — exploring the art, science, and history of fermentation. But even on the tightest timeframe, brewing beer and making cider are out. No, we can’t ferment something in time for yuletide celebrations, but this doesn’t mean homemade spirits are out of reach. Meet our friend the infusion.
The basic principle of an infused spirit is to take a pre-made, commercial spirit and add flavorants (herbs, spices, fruits, syrups, etc). Allow it to sit for a period of time, strain out the solid bits, and presto — homemade hooch.
All of these recipes are scaled to work with a standard 750ml bottle of base spirit and have a turnaround time of about a week at most. However, even that timeframe can be accelerated by agitating (read: shaking) the jar or bottle containing the infusion.
These all make fantastic gifts, and people are usually pretty blown away that this was something you crafted.
The following recipe is for a phenomenal coffee liqueur that’s great in homemade White Russians or simply sipped over ice.
- 1 bottle Light rum (Bacardi Silver or El Dorado 3 year work fine)
- 1/2 cup freshly and finely ground coffee
- 4-1/2 cups water (divided into 2-1/2 and 2 cups)
- 2 cups turbinado or demerara sugar
- 2 vanilla beans
Grind the coffee (or use preground if you’re cutting corners) and combine with 2-1/2 cups water. Make sure to stir thoroughly to avoid any clumps. Let sit covered overnight — at least eight hours, but up to 24.
The next day, combine 2 cups water with 2 cups sugar and bring to a simmer, ensuring that the sugar completely dissolves. Remove from heat and allow to cool. While the syrup is cooling, strain the grounds from your cold brew using a coffee filter placed in a funnel positioned over a large jar.
Combine the cool syrup, coffee, and rum in a vessel that can hold at least 2.5 quarts. Cut the vanilla beans down the middle, lengthwise, scrape the seeds into your coffee–rum–syrup mixture, and throw in the vanilla pods, as well. Allow this to sit for 3–4 days. Strain out the vanilla pods using a sieve and store the liquid in clean, sealable jars or bottles.
Note: You’re diluting the rum quite a bit. The finished product will be around 15% ABV. As such, I would keep it out of the freezer, or it will go slushy.
This one is so simple. You can even keep the rum in its original bottle. You can use it as you would any spiced rum, but it particularly shines in a Dark N’ Stormy or other spice forward cocktails. You can adjust or omit spices to your liking, but it’s important to use whole spices. Don’t even think about using that ground cinnamon that’s been sitting in your cabinet for three years. …
- 1 bottle aged (but unspiced) rum
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 cloves
- 5 allspice berries
- 5 cardamom pods
- 1 star anise pod
- 1 tbsp. fresh orange or tangerine zest (no pith)
- 1 vanilla bean
Add spices to rum in a sealable glass jar (or just use the bottle the rum comes in). Shake a few times each day. Taste after four days. If it’s to your liking, strain it into a clean, sealable jar or bottle and discard used spices. If not, let it sit up to two weeks. I’ve found that after two weeks the spices begin to release very bitter notes.
Cranberry Tangerine Vodka
With the addition of vanilla this infusion tastes almost like cranberry-tangerine muffin vodka. If that’s not your thing then feel free to leave it out. I really like this simply with soda water and a dash of orange bitters.
- 1 bottle Vodka
- 1 pound fresh cranberries
- Zest of 3 tangerines (no pith)
- 1 cup turbinado or demerara sugar
- 1 vanilla bean (optional)
Rinse the cranberries and pat dry. Add cranberries and sugar to a saucepan and apply medium heat. Stir regularly. After 5–10 minutes the cranberries will begin to burst and syrup will start to form. Cook until it’s pretty saucy, all the sugar is dissolved, and the berries have begun to break down.
Allow the mixture to cool and then combine with vodka and the vanilla bean in a large, sealable vessel. Let sit for one week, shaking occasionally.
After a week, strain the mixture through a fine sieve, pressing through as much liquid as you can without pushing through too much cranberry gunk. Store in a sealable glass vessel. Some particulate may settle out occasionally but just leave it at the bottom or shake it back into solution.
So with a little time, a smidge of effort, and a bit of creativity you can make this the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye. Beyond holiday gift-giving, infusions are a great first foray into the world of making your own alcoholic beverages. The above recipes use bold, wintery flavors (given the time of year), but lighter flavors can be used to take advantage of seasonal ingredients and of course accommodate personal taste. So this Christmas be the bringer of joy, let your cup runneth over, and have a very happy New Year.
James Sheehan is a homebrewer and cider-maker. He holds an MA in Terrorism, Security, and Society from King’s College London.
Photo credit: Caspar Diederik