Variety is the spice of life. Need an easy (and low cost) way of sprucing up your favorite whiskey? Enter: whiskey infusions. “Whiskey is almost an infusion already, because it starts off as clear spirit and is then essentially infused with wood in the barrel. That nice, rich vanilla base opens up a whole host of additional items you can infuse,” Adam Seger, chef and bartender at The Tuck Room LA told Whiskey Advocate. Transform your old familiar whiskey into something exciting and new with these tips for making the best whiskey infusions.
What is a whiskey infusion?
If you are already a whiskey aficionado, you know that a good bourbon is difficult to improve upon. So, why mess with perfection? The art of infusion may change your mind. Think of drinking a Manhattan with cherry-infused bourbon or an orange-infused rye Old Fashioned. Here’s the thing: you can infuse just about any ingredient into whiskey. Fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices are the most common ingredients to infuse with whiskey. Believe it or not, you can also work with butter and cheese or fat-wash whiskey with smoked ham, cooked bacon, charcuterie and other meats.
Tips for making your own whiskey infusions
Start with an everyday, quality whiskey you’d drink by itself. A higher proof will pull more flavors out, not to mention infusing can already lower the alcohol content so it’s better to start off with a high proof. Choose one that’s at least 45% ABV or barrel proof. And steer clear of whiskeys that are heavily peated or already flavored. Here are some other tips to follow for infusing:
- Produce at its peak: If you have fruit just on the verge of going bad, adding alcohol can capture the peak ripeness. Choose fresh fruit and vegetables and cut them up into chunks the size of your thumb so the pieces aren’t overly mushy. Muddle cherries or blueberries.
- Whole nuts and spices: Spices should be in whole-form. Slightly crack hard nuts like almonds, pistachios or pecans before adding them to your mixture.
- Fresh herbs are best: Rosemary, tarragon and other hearty herbs should be added fresh. Herbs with delicate leaves like mint or basil should be freeze dried first.
- Skip expensive accessories: you don’t need to spend money on an infusing vessel, opt for mason jars instead.
- Taste-test as you go: There’s no hard and fast rule for how much of each ingredient to add. Some suggest a 1:1 ratio (one oz. of your favorite whiskey and one oz. of your desired mixture) but the best way to try an infusion is to taste-test as you go. Place the jar in a cool area out of direct sunlight and shake or stir it once a day. After 24 hours, taste the whiskey. If you want more flavor, let it infuse another day and keep testing until you enjoy the flavor. Infusions can take anywhere from three to six days to complete.
- Infuse ingredients separately: It’s best to infuse one ingredient at a time because the flavor can get muddled quickly. You don’t want to waste good whiskey, either. For example, if you want to add berries and mint to your whiskey, start with two glass containers. One contains the mint and whiskey and the other contains the berry and whiskey. After they reach your desired taste, strain and then blend the two slowly. Important note: a 1:1 ratio may not be the desired blend of the two infusions so add a little bit and taste. Keep going until the flavor is to your liking.
- Start out small: Begin with an 8 oz. infusion. If it’s good you can always go bigger. If the infusion isn’t hitting your taste buds you can always make it into a cocktail by adding fresh citrus, sugar or other fruit liquors.
The best flavor pairings to start with
The fun of trying whiskey infusions is that you get to play with different flavors to see how well they mix. Here are some common pairings that you can begin experimenting with.
Bourbon and high-sugar fruit: High-sugar fruits such as nectarines, lemons, plums and peaches, work well with the rich vanilla flavor of bourbon. Try an infused whiskey with peaches and mint for a peach Julep. The peaches and mint go really well together. Any fruit-infused bourbon makes for an excellent Old Fashioned.
Rye and sage or rye and chocolate: Infusing rye with sage gives a savory flavor, while rye and chocolate is the perfect sweet combination. Start with pure cacao and chop it. Shake the rye twice a day and use the pairing to make a Brooklyn or Manhattan.Tennessee whiskey and berries: The sweetness of the berries pairs well with the lightness of Tennessee whiskey. Use crushed berries for a sweeter take on a classic Whiskey Sour.