Cocktail Queries: What Is an Infinity Bottle, and How Do I Create One?Photos via Amazon Drink Features whiskey
Cocktail Queries is a Paste series that examines and answers basic, common questions that drinkers may have about mixed drinks, cocktails and spirits. Check out every entry in the series to date.
As you cruise through the liquor geek sphere, especially in the arena of people with extensive at-home collections of whiskey, rum or brandy, the term “infinity bottle” is something you’re likely to run into sooner rather than later. These bottles are perhaps best summed up as homemade liquor blends that represent a living history of the bottles you’ve previously enjoyed—never static, always in flux. They are, in the eyes of some spirits geeks, nothing less than “family heirlooms” in the making.
Allow us to explain the concept.
An “infinity bottle” is an idea that borrows from the concept of wine or liquor solera systems, a process by which wine, brandy, rum, whiskey and sherry are occasionally aged. In a solera system, barrels are traditionally stacked into a triangular or pyramid-like shape, with newly distilled or fermented spirits/wine entering into the top barrel, and older spirits occupying the barrels below. The spirits are then allowed to age, with product occasionally being bottled from the oldest spirit in the lowest barrels. The barrels are never allowed to be fully emptied, however, and any spirit taken out is replaced at the top with new spirit, which then slowly trickles down through the system over the course of years. The theory of a solera system, then, is that because no barrel is ever fully emptied, some tiny portion of the original spirit must still exist in the ever-evolving blend, even if the solera system is a century old. It’s a romantic notion for selling spirits to the consumer, to be sure, although winemakers and distillers also believe the solera system helps to slowly achieve a complexity of flavor that can’t be replicated elsewhere.
An infinity bottle, then, is like a home version of a solera system for whiskey, rum or brandy geeks, being managed by the drinker in much the same way. Small amounts of spirits are added from a variety of bottles, and whatever is consumed from the infinity bottle is eventually replaced by new spirits. The same theory applies—as long as the liquor blend in the bottle is well mixed, and as long as the bottle is never emptied, then theoretically some percentage of the original liquor you added to the bottle 10 years ago will still be there, even if 100 whiskeys or rums have been added since. The complexity of the blend thereby is intended to increase over time, which is why infinity bottles are also referred to as “fractional bottles” or “living bottles” among some geeks.
A pour from the infinity bottle becomes a secret handshake among spirits geeks.
The popularization of this particular spirits geek concept is generally credited to whiskey YouTuber Ralfy Mitchell, who in 2012 uploaded a video entitled “Your Solera Bottle.” In it, he speculated on what would be possible within the framework of an at-home infinity bottle, and the potential for them to create flavors that had never been seen in the whiskey scene before. The concept quickly caught on, perhaps not least because so many whiskey geeks have spare, fancy-looking decanters sitting around that we’ve never used. The infinity bottle was a perfect excuse to finally put something in those decanters, and a way to use up the last few ounces of various whiskey bottles at the same time. It’s an exclusive blend that you can genuinely say has never been created before, and it goes without saying that whiskey geeks are drawn toward exclusivity like moths to flame.
So, how does one begin to create their own infinity bottle? Well, the first thing you’ll likely want is a unifying concept. That concept may be tight, i.e. “this bottle is only going to contain Kentucky bourbons,” or it may be all-encompassing—a freeform collection of any and every spirit that you enjoy, although god only knows what that concoction will eventually taste like. Personally? My own whiskey infinity bottle is specifically a collection of bourbon and rye whiskeys, which I believe are stylistically similar enough to not clash with one another. Would the addition of some peated or sherried single malt scotch whisky push things in an interesting direction? Possibly, but I’m not quite that brave. There’s no reason you can’t be, though!
Here are a few additional things to consider in creating an infinity bottle:
— The concept is most often applied to whiskey, rum and brandy, although there’s nothing stopping you from creating an infinity bottle for any spirit. Likewise, you could create infinity bottles for any substyle within those categories, such as wheated bourbons, rye whiskeys, sherried scotches, Jamaican rums, cognacs and so many more. The options are effectively endless.
— You’ll probably want to keep track of the liquor additions that have been made in your bottle, whether that’s just jotting the amounts you’ve added of various brands into a notebook, or creating a more permanent record. This is the kind of information you may want years later when you’re struggling to remember the amounts of various liquors that have been added to the bottle over time, especially if you want to create a second bottle that contains some elements of the first one.
— You should also keep an eye on the relative proof level of the bottle, in terms of how assertive you want your infinity bottle to be. For a bourbon bottle, for instance, it may be tempting to add all of your favorite cask strength or barrel proof brands into the bottle, but a few additions of lower proof spirit may go a long way in making the contents of the bottle more approachable.
— If you’re especially wary or anal about new additions to the bottle, you can always pour out a small amount of the contents into a tasting glass and then use an eye-dropper or pipette to add small amounts of something new to your reduced sample, to get an idea of how that spirit will affect the new blend.
In the end, though, it’s my opinion that an infinity bottle is more about creating an ongoing conversation—a reflection of one’s own changing tastes over time—than it is about the quest for a masterpiece of amateur blending. You may sometimes push your bottle in a direction that is unpalatable, but that’s okay—you can always add more of this and that until the blend becomes something you enjoy once again. Nothing is irreparable; it’s all just a bump in the road.
So if you give the infinity bottle concept a try yourself, go for the gusto.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.