It is early autumn, the days are getting ever so slightly chillier, and the light tends to fall a little aslant. I can feel the change of season in the air, and to me in terms of my kitchen, it means two things: I want to bake (an urge that I tend to resist except when have guests), and I know it is time to make infused alcohol if it should be ready by midwinter, whatever your flavour of celebration may be that season.
My relationship with alcohol can best be described as a loving long-distance relationship of sorts. I love it, love drinking the really good stuff, and I also get intoxicated from the tiniest amounts, so I drink it rarely and in small quantities. In the words of my friends, I am the most lightweight drinker any of them have ever met. On the up side, that also means I am sober within an hour or two of drinking, so (if it is an occasion on which I would actually drink at all), I can get tipsy again and again repeatedly.
I think alcohol is a good thing in the quantity I consume it, but in a very non-hypocritical way, I can also honestly say I drink about half a bottle of wine and a couple of shots of hard liquor (typically brandy in my coffee) per month. I imagine people can be just fine drinking more than I (and also stay on their feet better than I’d manage), but I am not here to lecture anyone on how much they should drink. If you are drinking too much, you probably know it anyway, and I strongly believe in the fact that the only person whom you can change in this life, is your very own self.
But, I digress, as I was going to talk about infusion, and not about sobriety (or lack thereof). So, it is usually for the winter festivities, that I prepare a variety of those (to be drunk chilled, or used in sweet-making and desserts, or whichever way you like it).
Infusing alcohol is easy. What you need is:
- A glass preserving jar, 1-1.5L in volume, one of those with a metal lever lock and food-grade rubber seal.
- A 750ml bottle of alcohol you wish to infuse (plain vodka, gin, and white rum are the typical favourites).
- Whatever you plan to infuse the alcohol with (fruit, herbs, whole spices, etc.)
- Sugar (if using, not all recipes call for it)
- Boiling water on two separate occasions (to sterilize the jar and muslin)
- Muslin cloth and a funnel.
- A friend you can trust.
- Refrigerator, and a whole lot of patience
The basic instruction is:
- Wash and dry your fruit (if using to infuse). If you plan to use it later and freeze it in advance, wash and dry it before freezing.
- Free up a spot in the corner of your fridge that you can easily reach on a daily basis that the jar would fit into.
- Wash the jar and rinse thoroughly (this is primarily for you strange British people who don’t rinse the washing up liquid off your clean dishes… RINSE IT OFF, else the result will taste of soap!).
- Sterilize the jar by pouring a bit of boiling water in it (use a dish towel to hold it), and swirling it about, then pouring out.
- Place infusion materials into jar as per recipe (berries, fruit, spices and sugar).
- Pour the entire bottle of alcohol on top. Reclose the empty bottle, do not wash it, and keep it for later refilling.
- Seal jar.
- Swirl gently and place into the prepared spot in fridge.
Now, here is where the patience becomes imperative. The use of the refrigerator is twofold: One, it keeps the alcohol cold, which means it is less likely to evaporate. Two, if you are like most people, you open your fridge at least once a day. What you must do for the next 2-3 months, is take the jar out once a day, admire it, pet it, swirl it a bit gently, admire some more, DO NOT OPEN IT, and place it back in the fridge. Not opening is important to both, prevent contamination of alcohol with water condensation on inside of cold jar, and to resist temptation to stick fingers in and try it. It won’t be ready for at least 8 weeks.
Once 2-3 months have passed, or when you just can’t wait any longer (but you must remember that if you open too soon, it won’t be as nice!), take out your trusted friend, muslin cloth, funnel, empty bottle, and the much-anticipated jar.
- Drape the muslin cloth over the funnel (letting it drop into it obviously), and pour some boiling water over it over the sink.
- Open the empty bottle and place the funnel into it. It will cool quickly, and we also want that.
- Let the trusted friend hold the funnel and bottle so that it does not tip over and ruin all that hard work.
- Carefully filter the alcohol through the funnel back into its waiting bottle, and close.
- The fruit in the funnel (depending on which ones you’ve used) can make fantastic boozy cake topping (if they were strawberries or elderberries or blueberries for example!), or tossed out. Or, if they are spices, they can be wrapped in said muslin and hung up as air freshner (like a pomander without an orange) for a while.
I tend to keep the resulting infusion in the fridge, but I think it can quite easily be stored outside of it once filtered. Not that it is very likely to survive long enough for storage to become too much of a problem, anyway… :)
A couple of my favourite ideas for infusion materials (but feel free to come up with your own, experimenting is fun, and you know what you like better than anyone else does):
- Quince Rum: white rum, 1 large quince fruit (sliced), 2-4 whole cloves, 2 tablespoons demerara cane sugar.
- Yule Vodka: plain vodka (I like Absolut, but that’s my I-love-Sweden habit speaking, and any decent vodka will do), 1 cup blueberries (you want the true wild ones, aka bilberries), fresh or frozen, 1 stick cinnamon (for the love of little green apples and the booze you are making, make sure it’s real Ceylon cinnamon!), 2-4 whole cloves, 1-2 allspice grains, 1-2 tablespoons of white sugar.
- Elderberry vodka: plain vodka as per above, 1-2 cups of ripe elderberries (de-stemmed), 2 heaping tablespoons white sugar, 1 curl of lemon or orange peel (make sure to wash the citrus with soap and water to remove shellac resin which is used to spray citrus, unless you manage to buy unwaxed citrus).