Want to add unique flavors to your favorite cocktails without a lot of effort or money? Try making an infused whisky. It’s ridiculously easy and instantly transforms the old and familiar into something exciting and new.
“Whisky is almost an infusion already, because it starts off as clear spirit and is then essentially infused with wood in the barrel,” says Adam Seger, chef and bartender at The Tuck Room LA. “That nice, rich vanilla base opens up a whole host of additional items you can infuse.” Think of Manhattans made with cherry-infused bourbon and orange-infused rye Old Fashioneds—and then think bigger.
You can infuse just about any ingredient into whisky. Although fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices are most common, you can also work with butter or even cheese, or fat-wash whisky with smoked ham, cooked bacon, charcuterie, or other meats.
Follow These Tips to Start Making Your Own Custom Whisky Infusions
Use High-Proof Whisky
“Higher proof is better because it pulls more flavors out,” Seger explains—plus, infusing the whisky may lower the alcohol content, making it hard to create a balanced cocktail with your final creation if you start off with a low proof. Choose whisky that’s at least 45% ABV, or go as high as barrel proof.
Don’t Blow Your Budget
This is definitely not the time to use Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old—but don’t use the very cheapest whisky either. Select a quality, everyday whisky that you would be happy to drink by itself.
Almost Any Style Goes
Drink what you like, infuse what you like, whether that’s bourbon, rye, scotch, or other whisky. Just steer clear of whisky that is already flavored and anything heavily peated, which will likely be hard to balance.
Choose Fresh, Organic Produce at Its Peak
Seger recommends infusing with organic produce because “alcohol is an efficient way to absorb all of the good and bad things from fresh fruit and vegetables.” Whatever fruit or vegetable you use, it should be perfectly ripe. “Infusions can be great if you have an excess of fruit that is just on the verge of going overripe,” Seger says. “Once you add alcohol, it will capture that peak ripeness.”
Break the skin of the fruit or vegetable without cutting it up too small or mushing it, which can lead to over-extraction and bitter flavors. Muddle cherries or blueberries. For more delicate berries, such as raspberries or blackberries, just barely break the skins. In general, any vegetable or non-berry fruit should be roughly the size of your thumb, so, for example, cut peaches into eighths.
Add Spices or Nuts Whole
Add cardamom, cloves, or other spices whole. When using cacao nibs, nutmeg, and hard nuts like almonds, pistachios, or pecans, slightly crack them first using either a mortar and pestle or by putting them under the flat side of a knife and giving it a smack.
Know that fresh herbs aren’t always best
If you want to add herbs such as rosemary or tarragon, use the freshest ingredients you can source for the best flavor. For herbs with delicate leaves, such as mint or basil, freeze-dry them first using liquid nitrogen, or else you’ll end up with muddy-tasting whisky, Seger says. Heartier herbs such as rosemary can be added fresh, however.