DIY infused booze requires minimal tools and ingredients, but some waiting time.
Liquor store shelves are lined with a seemingly endless array of fruit-flavored spirits, from vodka and rum to bourbon and tequila – and for good reason. When done well, spirits infused with in-season produce can add an elevated twist to any cocktail.
But don’t think infused booze is only for commercial giants or craft cocktail bars. Fresh fruit infusions are easy and quick to do at home. They require minimal tools and ingredients, but some waiting time. If you have the patience, DIY infused booze is worth the wait.
Tools For Infusing Alcohol
You only need a few basic (and relatively affordable tools) to get your infusing job done.
Mason jars or apothecary jars are ideal for DIY infused booze because they seal tightly and are easy to clean thoroughly. They also have the added benefit of being clear, allowing you to observe the infusion process. The size jar you’ll need will depend on what volume of alcohol you want to infuse.
A peeler is useful for removing rinds from citrus (where all the flavor lies!). And it will do a good job of leaving behind the bitter white pith.
A muddler is handy to have on hand for crushing and bruising your additives. This move helps ensure more flavor compounds and essential oils are physically available to infiltrate your base spirit. But you could also use other kitchen tools you have on hand to the same effect. A potato masher would probably work nicely on fruit; you’ll likely just have to do your crushing in a bowl first, since most potato mashers won’t fit inside a Mason jar.
A large, fine-mesh strainer and/or cheesecloth are your best bets for filtering any additives from the alcohol once the infusion process is complete. A strainer alone will effectively remove any big chunks from your finished product, but the more fine particles you are able to remove, the longer its shelf life. So if you are planning on storing your spirit for a couple of weeks or longer, your best bet is to use both a strainer and cheesecloth, or a couple layers of cheesecloth. And it doesn’t hurt to strain twice.
A sharp knife will be necessary to core any fruits and remove bitter seeds and other unwanted parts. If you are infusing your citrus or fruit with any other produce, a knife will come in handy as well to expose the flavor profiles of that ingredient.
Finally, a funnel will help you transfer your infused alcohol from container to container. A funnel is especially helpful if the vessel you plan to use for final storage has a narrow mouth.
Choosing Your Infusion Spirit & Ingredients
Once you have your tools lined up, it’s time to consider your ingredients. If you are following a specific recipe, you already know what you need. But if you are improvising, you’ll want to consider the following.
Choosing Your Base Spirit
A neutral alcohol like vodka is your safest bet when it comes to DIY infused booze because there are no flavors inherent to the spirit that will clash with your fruit. But you needn’t limit yourself to vodka. Tequila, rum and gin can work nicely if you choose additives that complement the botanicals used in the distillation process. And darker spirits like brandy and bourbon work well if you pair your fruit with the toasty, caramel, and other complex notes present in barrel aged products.
In terms of quality, there is no need to buy tip-top-of-the-shelf alcohol. You will just be masking the finely curated flavor profile of that spirit, which is likely doing it a disservice. But don’t buy garbage, either. Much like the wine you use in cooking, it should be affordable but something you enjoy drinking on its own.
Choosing Your Fruit
Unlike your base spirit, whatever fruit you choose should be the absolutely best you can find. That means in season, fully ripe, and local and organic, if you can swing it. As for the kind of fruit, that takes some consideration. If you are a cocktail connoisseur or avid cook, you probably already have a dozen ideas for fruit and spirit combinations whirling around in your head. But for everyone else, here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:
- Vodka: blueberries, lemons or grapes
- Tequila: watermelon, grapefruit or pomegranate
- Gin: blackberries or strawberries
- Rum: mango, lime, passion fruit, pineapple, bananas or coconut
- Bourbon: oranges, cherries, apples, figs or plums
Adding Other Flavors?
Fruit might be the focus of the article, but you aren’t limited to it. Basic fruit infusions are a good starting point for beginners who want to get accustomed to the process, but you can add complexity to your infusion by adding fresh and dried herbs and spices to the mix. Here are some common ingredients that work well in combination with fruit.
- Herbs (whole & fresh): mint, rosemary, parsley, thyme, basil, dill, lemongrass or cilantro
- Spices (whole & fresh): ginger, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, allspice, peppercorns or vanilla beans
- Other (whole & fresh): garlic, peppers, pecans or dried dates
How Long To Infuse Alcohol With Citrus & Fruits
How long you infuse your spirit will depend on the ripeness of your fruit, the heat in your peppers (if using), and the potency of your herbs and spices, as well as the ABV of your base spirit (the higher the proof, the faster a spirit will extract flavor). It is also very much a matter of personal preference. The infusion will change over time, and longer doesn’t always mean better. Your best bet is to taste your concoction routinely over time until you get it right where you want it, keeping in mind that spirits steeped with very spicy and intensely flavored ingredients might be optimal in as little as an hour. Most basic fruit infusions are ready in 2 to 4 days, but some combinations improve over the course of weeks.
How To Infuse Alcohol With Citrus & Fruits
Once you’ve wrangled your tools and chosen your base spirit, fruit, and any additional ingredients, you are ready to start infusing.
Step 1: Prep Your Ingredients
You will want to prep your ingredients accordingly. For most fruits, that means washing them, removing the parts you wouldn’t normally eat (tough rinds, leaves, cores, pits, stems, etc.), and chopping the edible parts into chunks. You can leave the edible skins of fruits like peaches, apples, and pears on or off. Note that skins generally add a nice color but also contribute some degree of bitter and/or tannic compounds to your infusion over time. We generally like the complexity skins add, but that is personal preference.
One exception to the above guidelines is berries, which can be left whole. Another exception is citrus fruit. Most of the time, you will only want to use the peels of citrus (minus the white pith underneath), which contains all of the fruit’s essential oils. But if you are in a real hurry and can’t wait days or weeks for your finished product, use the whole fruit by slicing citrus into ¼ inch thick rounds. This speeds up the process, so you’ll have a flavorful finished product in as little as 12 hours.
To prep fresh herbs, wash them as you would fruit. There is no need to remove the woody stems from ingredients like thyme or rosemary.
Prep for spices will depend on what you are using. You could lightly crack whole spices like peppercorns with your muddler before adding them to the mix. Vanilla beans should be split in half lengthwise. And you might consider toasting some spices in a dry skillet to add another dimension to your finished spirit.
Step 2: Determine Your Proportions
In terms of proportions, ratios can vary significantly by ingredient(s).
It’s a safe bet is a 1:1 ratio of fruit to alcohol. This guideline does not apply to spicy peppers, which should be used more judiciously. For instance, we recommend half a jalapeno to 12 ounces of gin. For even hotter chilies, you may need less.
For herbs and spices, a 1:1 ratio will likely be way too intense. Start with a 1:2 ratio for herbs. Use spices in even smaller amounts, especially if they are potent, like cinnamon and clove. It is better to err on the side of having too little of ingredient present than too much. You can always add more or steep your ingredients longer to draw out more flavor if the intensity isn’t where you want it.
Step 3: Combine & Store
Once your ingredients are prepped, add your fruit to a clean jar. Finally, add any spices and then your alcohol.
Cap your jar and give it a good shake. Then place it in a coolish place, out of direct sunlight, to steep. Shake it daily until your infusion is complete. When you’ve determined that it’s ready, uncap the jar and sieve the mixture through a strainer and/or cheesecloth to remove as many particles as possible. You are aiming for as close to crystal clear as you can get it.
Store the spirit in an airtight glass container, like another clean mason jar with a spout free flow pouring lid. Alcohol is a natural preservative, so it should keep for months, assuming you filtered it cleanly. If you can’t get it really clean, it wouldn’t hurt to store it in the fridge.
Citrus & Fruit Infused Cocktail Recipes
Your fruit-infused spirit can be used in classic drink recipes, or you can experiment with it to make up your own unique cocktail. You could even joy your spirit on the rocks.