For Delicious Cocktails, Infuse Alcohol
If you've been to a liquor store recently, you might've noticed the increasing variety of flavored liquors. Sure, there are the classics like lemon vodka and coconut rum. But I've also seen coffee-flavored tequila, cherry-flavored whiskey, and one disturbing bottle of a murky liquid that promised to deliver the flavors of red wine and chocolate in a single beverage. (I'm not sure if that last one was supposed to be sold as a legitimate drink or a gag gift.)
Some of these flavored liquors can taste pretty good, while others deliver the sort of fake fruit tastes normally reserved for children's cough syrup. The best (and often cheapest) way to make sure the flavored spirit you're sipping is something delicious, though, is to infuse your own alcohol. Homemade infusions often taste better than store-bought flavored liquors and can make low-to-mid-range spirits taste high-class (or at least higher-class). (See also: Living Large with Lower Calorie Cocktails)
How to Infuse Alcohol
The process is very simple. You choose your favorite spirit, ideally something relatively neutral like vodka, gin, or rum (darker spirits can be infused, but because they're more flavorful on their own, they're harder to pair with an infusion). Then you choose what you'd like to flavor your spirit with — anything from lime peel (pith removed) for a tonic-ready gin to hot peppers, bay leaves, and black peppercorns for a vodka that begs for bloody mary mix. Combine the liquor and flavorings, seal in a container (its original bottle, a new bottle, or a large jar are all good), and let the mixture sit. The infusion process can take anywhere from three days to several weeks depending on how strong you'd like your infusion to be (you can always take a little taste to see if you're satisfied with its strength).
Once you're happy with your spirit's flavor, strain it through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, store it in a clean bottle, and enjoy! Infused alcohol also makes a great homemade gift.
If you need some ideas on what flavors to use, we've posted ideas before about infusing vodka — even with leftover Halloween candy. Some of my favorite combinations that I've made include ginger-lime gin, the aforementioned hot pepper vodka, and falernum, a rum-based drink that was once popular in tiki cocktails.
Cocktail Recipes with Infused Alcohol
Not sure how to use your new infused alcohol? You can replace any flavored spirit you would buy at the store, or try it in a cocktail where you'd normally use a plain version, like mixing a rum and coke with home-infused orange rum. If you need more ideas, cocktail sites like CocktailDB or the drinks section of Epicurious are great places to start.
Have you tried infusing your own spirits? If so, do you have any flavor combinations to recommend?