With Memorial Day and the official start of summer mere weeks away, it’s the perfect time to infuse your own spirits. All you need are mason jars, some fruit, vegetables, or herbs, and your libation of choice. Mix it up, seal the jar, shake every so often, and in five days you’ll have the ultimate gourmet cocktail base, just in time for summer. Keep them for yourself to sip on all summer long, or wrap the jars with a bow and give them a hostess gifts.
Inspired by an article in the New York Times Food Section, I took a few suggestions from their recipes, then drew inspiration from a few of my favorite summer drinks. Feel free to get creative with your infusion combinations, keeping in mind that citrus fruits give the best tangy flavor, and play well with herbs, and that clear liquors serve as the best platform for flavor. In terms of the quality of the alcohol you infuse, try to spring for something you’d actually want to drink if it weren’t infused. I’m not saying you have to use top shelf, but leave the bottom shelf plastic bottles with handles to the kids celebrating senior week.
I used an electric juicer for my citrus fruits, since I was juicing in bulk, but it’s not essential. What you will need are clean mason gars with their airtight seals, and a sharp knife to cut the zest off the fruits while avoiding the bitter white pith. If you can be bothered, briefly blanch the zest in boiling water to remove any lingering bitterness. Make sure you wash everything really well before you add them to the jars, as any dirt or sediments will muddle the flavor of your infusion, not to mention just make the whole thing kind of gross. I’d also like to make my case for organic produce, as any pesticides that have steeped into the produce will inevitable end up in your cocktail glass, and nobody wants that!
Once you’ve given your infusions four or five days in a dark corner, giving them a shake whenever you remember, just strain them with a fine sieve. Some of the infusions, like the ones with strawberries, require a finer filtering, so just layer a few paper towels in your sieve and let it slowly filter through. Then just wash your mason jars in boiling hot water, and pour your newly flavored booze back in. They’ll keep for several weeks on the shelf or in the fridge, though I doubt they’ll last that long!
Recipes - These all make two large mason jars worth of infusions, and one mason jar of the strained, finished product.
Lemongrass Blood Orange Vodka: Three blood oranges, zested and juiced, and two stalks of lemon grass, bashed up a bit. Add to the jars and fill to the brim with vodka. Goes great with Blood orange juice, a squeeze of lime, topped up with tonic.
Cucumber Lime Gin: Three limes, zested and juiced, one Persian organic cucumber, sliced thinly, skin on. Add to the jars and fill to the brim with gin. This is perfect in a gin and tonic; just add a bit more lime on top for extra tang.
Black Tea Lemon Vodka: Six black tea bags, the zest and juice of six lemons. Add to the jars and fill to the brim with vodka. This lends itself perfectly to a spiked iced tea, or a boozy Arnold Palmer. I like it with black iced tea, a squeeze of lime, and topped up with ginger ale.
Strawberry Rosemary Vodka: One pint strawberries, quartered, and two sprigs rosemary, cut in half. Add to the jars and fill to the brim with vodka. This pairs well with lemonade, or just over ice with a splash or sprite or tonic.
Pineapple Ginger Jalapeno Tequila: One pound pineapple, cubed, one jalapeno, sliced and deseeded, and one inch long chunk of ginger, peeled and chopped. Add all to the jars and fill to the brim with tequila. You can make this spicy by leaving the seeds in the jalapeno, but be careful they’re strong! Use this to make the ultimate margarita, on the rocks with a salted rim and a wedge of lime.
Grapefruit Lime Gin: Four grapefruits, zested and juiced, and four limes, zested and juiced. Add all to the jars and fill to the brim with gin. I tailored this infusion specifically for my favorite summer cocktail, the Salty Dog. Usually made with vodka, a salty dog is a mixture of grapefruit juice, alcohol, and a bit of lime (complex I know!) Made with gin, it’s actually called a Greyhound, but that’s beside the point. I think the gin adds a depth of flavor to the grapefruit. Just combine your grapefruit gin infusion, some grapefruit juice, and a bit of lime, maybe topping it up with tonic if you want some fizz.
As an afterthought, you can take the water that you used to blanch all of the citrus zest and make some amazing simple syrup with it. All the bright flavors from the fruit infused into that water, so just add an equal part sugar, bring it to a boil, and stir until all the sugar dissolves. You can then use the syrup to sweeten your drinks, toss it into a mixed fruit salad for a bit of extra sweetness, or drizzle it over berries, yogurt, and granola for a yummy breakfast.