CHEERS

The Art of In­fus­ing Spir­its

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Fla­vored spir­its are a huge part of the al­co­hol bev­er­age in­dus­try, pro­duced in ever-in­creas­ing quan­ti­ties. Res­tau­rants and bars that are se­ri­ous about their cock­tail pro­grams, how­ever, of­ten make their own fla­vor in­fu­sions with dis­tinc­tive com­bi­na­tions of fruits, shrubs, spices and more.

Ross Kupitz, bev­er­age di­rec­tor for D’Amico Res­tau­rants in Southwest Florida and Min­nesota, says, “We first started to see a cock­tail rev­o­lu­tion in the mid-2000s. More ex­pe­ri­enced bar­tenders started to come up with unique ren­di­tions of clas­sic drinks us­ing qual­ity in­gre­di­ents and homemade items rather than just pro­cessed items. It got peo­ple to come back.”

At The Con­ti­nen­tal in Naples, he helped de­sign one of the most im­pres­sive bar fea­tures you’ll find in Southwest Florida. Gi­ant orbs full of spir­its and house-made mixes for the most pop­u­lar craft cock­tails hang above the bar for mixol­o­gists to pour from. The glass con­tain­ers, typ­i­cally used in chem­istry labs, are cus­tom made for The Con­ti­nen­tal, and they look cool.

One orb con­tains a mix of Bulleit Bour­bon and Nonino Quintessen­tia, used in the restau­rant’s Ital­ian in NYC cock­tail, a mash-up of a Man­hat­tan and an Old Fash­ioned. “When we let those two things mar­i­nate to­gether they al­most be­come a new spirit,” Kupitz says. “They re­ally marry to­gether well.” The fla­vor is no­tably dif­fer­ent than when the two spir­its are added in­di­vid­u­ally to the cock­tail.

When it comes to DIY in­fu­sions, vodka is a per­fect place to start be­cause it has a milder fla­vor pro­file that adapts well to other in­gre­di­ents; think of a pain­ter with a blank can­vas.

Sean Ram­sey, restau­rant man­ager at This­tle Lodge on Sani­bel Is­land, says, “If I want to use vodka for an in­fu­sion,

Gi­ant orbs full of spir­its and house-made mixes for the most pop­u­lar craft cock­tails hang above the bar for mixol­o­gists to pour from.

I look for one that has been dis­tilled three to five times, one that is a lit­tle cleaner and made from corn.”

If you are in­fus­ing fruits like ap­ples or pineap­ples in vodka, you can go as long as two to three weeks, Ram­sey says, but you have to be care­ful with citrus such as lemons and limes be­cause of the acid. “Less than a week for those,” he adds.

Ram­sey also in­fuses bour­bon with or­ange slices, vanilla and cin­na­mon sticks to make a tasty hot toddy.

When it comes to choos­ing a spirit to in­fuse at home or pro­fes­sion­ally, Kupitz says, “Blanco tequila is an­other one that latches on to dif­fer­ent fla­vors and is great with trop­i­cal in­gre­di­ents.” At The Con­ti­nen­tal he in­fuses tequila with pineap­ple and vanilla bean. “The pineap­ple soft­ens the bite of the agave, and the vanilla adds a bit of sweet­ness,” he ex­plains.

Bob Boye, chef/owner at Cru in Fort My­ers, did ex­ten­sive ex­per­i­ments in­fus­ing jalapeño pep­pers in tequila for his Hot and Skinny Mar­tini. “My recipe was born out of fail­ure,” he says.

First he tried grilling the pep­pers and let­ting them soak in the tequila. His next at­tempt in­volved steep­ing the pep­pers in heated tequila as you would do with tea leaves.

Then he went through a phase us­ing ni­tro­gen can­is­ters. The can­is­ters cre­ated pres­sure, forc­ing the tequila into the cell wall of the pep­per for great color, but it was still lack­ing the fla­vor he wanted.

Fi­nally he hit the jack­pot with the clas­sic sous-vide cook­ing method. Once the pep­pers are grilled, Boye vac­uum seals them in a bag of re­posado tequila, and then puts the bag in a low-heat wa­ter bath. “It pro­duces the max­i­mum amount of aro­mat­ics and fla­vor,” he says. “I use re­posado be­cause I en­joy the oak el­e­ments in this type of tequila with the pep­pers.”

For DIY in­fu­sions, the time it takes to achieve ideal fla­vor de­pends on the in­gre­di­ents, ac­cord­ing to Kupitz. For ex­am­ple, he says, “If you’re us­ing cu­cum­ber and mint and you take it out and strain it af­ter only one day, you might have the color but not the fla­vor. It will taste cheap.”

On the flip side, when left too long, the in­gre­di­ents will break down and the color will be off. He ad­vises, “The rule of thumb for most is five to seven days, depend­ing on the in­gre­di­ent, of course, but you ab­so­lutely have to taste it ev­ery day.”

If you are se­ri­ous about cre­at­ing your own in­fu­sions, Kupitz rec­om­mends con­sult­ing the web­site Cru­cial De­tail (cru­cialde­tail.com). Here you will find recipes and a strik­ing de­vice called the Port­hole that is per­fect for in­fus­ing spir­its, oils and more.

Re­gard­less of the ves­sel or in­gre­di­ents used, tast­ing is key to hit­ting the sweet spot when in­fus­ing your own spir­its. Cheers.

When it comes to DIY in­fu­sions, vodka is a per­fect place to start be­cause it has a milder fla­vor pro­file that adapts well to other in­gre­di­ents

Gina Birch is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor, a lover of good food and drink, and a well-known me­dia per­son­al­ity in Southwest Florida.

The hang­ing glass orbs are an eye-catch­ing fea­ture at The Con­ti­nen­tal. Cru’s Hot and Skinny Mar­tini is topped with Bit­ter­mens Hell­fire Bit­ters and slices of roasted, tequila-soaked jalapeños.

Jalapeño pep­pers are grilled be­fore be­ing in­fused in re­posado tequila to fla­vor the Hot and Skinny Mar­tini at Cru. Spe­cial­ties at The Con­ti­nen­tal: Laven­derand citrus-in­fused Coc­chi Amer­i­cano Bianco fla­vors the Chap­ter VIII Vol­ume I cock­tail (left). The bar in­fuses vodka with blue­berry and sage, then adds gin­ger beer and lime for My Blue­berry Buck (right).

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