If you're always making up a new cocktail recipe, add an extra "twist" by customizing your starting point: the liquor itself. We spiced things up with a trio of tasty homemade vodka infusions. Okay, so altering a liquor that’s known for being tasteless is pretty easy, but these tips are helpful for making sure your homemade flavors really pack a punch.
Peel the ginger and slice it thinly using a paring knife. Long strips go down the bottle neck easily and look nice floating around! Place evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 30 – 45 minutes at 250 degrees, until the sugars start to caramelize and it turns light brown.
For any fruit infusion, dry the peel in the oven. Using a paring knife again, cut the rind off into long, skinny strips (you want to make sure it will fit inside a bottle) and place on a baking sheet. Heat in the oven at a low temp (150 – 170 degrees) for 2 hours.
Only for the bold and unusual! A jalapeño vodka and tonic is a surefire way to spice up your night. No baking or drying necessary here, just slice a single jalapeño into rings and remove the seeds.
As far as vodkas go, any variety will do. For this we tried both a basic, affordable Svedka and a more artisanal batch made from apples.
You can source your own unlabeled bottles (http://www.bottlesetc.com/) or you can repurpose other bottles (nothing wrong with purchasing from one family of liquors to bottle your own version of another!) Espolon Tequila (http://www.tequilaespolon.com/) and Glenrothes Scotch both make beautiful small, round glass bottles with wooden cork tops that are perfect – and the labels are easily removed by soaking in warm water.
Fill a bottle of your choice with a plain vodka of your choice, leaving about an inch of room at the top for your added ingredients. Place the fruit peel, ginger strips, or jalapeño rings in each bottle and cap tightly. If the ingredients are warm, put them in the vodka while they are warm and then let it cool to room temperature.
Place all in the freezer. An infusion as strong as the jalapeño will be ready within 12 hours. Strain or leave the peppers in – the longer you leave in, the hotter it gets! For grapefruit or lemon, shake daily and give it a taste after 4 – 5 days to get the right flavor. Strain through a cheese cloth and rebottle. You can always add a single fresh peel for looks, but remember that it will make your infusion stronger and the flavor will change a bit.
Labeling is fun – you can punch holes in kraft paper or cardstock and secure around the bottle with a rubber band or around the neck with a string.
Try the jalapeño and ginger with just tonic or seltzer and garnish of your choice. Try the grapefruit or other fruit infusions with tonic and juice – delicious. We love the idea of setting up a vodka bar with all sorts of fun mixers and infusions, or giving homemade infused vodkas as gifts!
Liz Birch lived in NYC’s tiny East Village and big world of ad agencies until she swapped it all to open Rabe & Co., a tiny graphic design shop in the lovely, spacious Hudson Valley. She works with clients from Vancouver and LA to right down the street in Beacon, NY, where she also works a lot with cheese and bread, old canning jars, heirloom tomatoes, bobby pins and a sewing machine.