A few years ago my father brought back a bottle of Rum Jumbie from a trip to St. Maarten. The liquor comes in a bottle reminiscent of Aunt Jemima (it’s actually a ‘jumbie,’ a celestial spirit thought to be trapped in caves), and is aged Caribbean rum “with hints of tropical orange, lemon, and passion fruit; accented by delicate spices.” It’s delicious, and I quickly fell in love.
We chatted about the spirit while we sipped, and my dad told me about a market he had been through where vendors were selling different infused rums loaded with fruits, many of which still had fruit in the bottle you would purchase. The conversation, now almost a decade ago, led me to a new obsession with infusing my own spirits, something I’ve done a good bit of over the years.
On a basic level, infusing spirits in simple. You just need an idea, a clean glass jar, (I recommend springing for a pack of mason jars) and some time. The easiest spirit to infuse, in my opinion, is vodka. I’ve also tried infusing rums and tequila, and I made one (epically awesome) batch of cherry-infused Scotch. Infusing liquors is a fun hobby, and I find the bottles of flavored booze make awesome gifts for holidays and parties throughout the year.
As for what you can make, you’re only limited by your imagination. For me, a lot of this has been trail and error. I always make something on a small scale before going big. Remember, if you make a batch and think it needs a little something extra, you can always add more ingredients down the road.
Start with a simple fruit and spirit infusion. Cherries work well; not only will you have a bottle of cherry-flavored liquor, you’ll get some boozy cherries perfect for garnishes down the road. Other fruits that work well: Oranges, mango, pomegranate, and strawberries. if you like things spicy, then jalapeno or habanero peppers can be a good starting point.
Now sure where to start? Chowhound has this list of 16 different infusion recipes that can be a great starting point. The folks at Aged and Infused also sell some pretty cool kits that can help you make the magic happen as well. The company’s Apple a Day infusion, for instance, uses vanilla bean, dried apples, and cinnamon to flavor your favorite bourbon or whiskey. Their $25 kits also include the jar and a filtering lid with a spout, so literally all you’ll need to add is the booze.
A good rule of thumb for this is to start with something that you would actually drink. Would you never drink Aristocrat vodka at a bar? Then don’t make your infused liquor out of it either. For vodka, I typically start with a base of Smirnoff.
For rum, Bacardi. Tequila I vary a bit, but Sauza is usually a good one to try. You don’t want to pull out your top shelf collection for these, but you also don’t want to use something that’s such poor quality your infusion doesn’t stand a chance of success.
I always start by cutting up and washing my fruit, and then putting it in a glass jar. In general, the more fruit you have in a jar, the stronger that fruit flavor will be in your final product. The same goes for peppers. Cut up one or two jalapeños for a gently, spicy tequila. Drop six or seven in for a super spicy version.
Once you’ve got your fruit or peppers in the jar, fill it with the booze of your choice and seal the jars and put them in a cool, dark place. I usually throw mine in the back of my fridge. You can also use a closet or a spot in your garage if it’s going to stay relative cool.
A good rule of thumb is to wait two weeks before you give your concoction a try. After two weeks, you might decide it’s as flavored as you’d like it, or it could use a little more time infusing. This is also a good time to add some spices or herbs.
If you’re going to drink your infused liquor as soon as you’re done with it, then you can pour it right out of the bottle and enjoy. If you plan on putting it on a shelf, then you should consider removing the fruit from the bottle and straining your final product. The fruit will be okay as long as it’s covered in booze, but once you start sipping on it, that fruit can take a gnarly turn when it’s exposed to air. You can buy mesh strainers like this one that will get the filtering job done.
One thing I recommend with fruity rums is to cut your final product with sugar water. When you do, you can transform it into a tasty liqueur that you can pour over ice and sip on anytime.
Have you made any awesome infusions of your own? Tell us about them in the comments!