This is going to be the most difficult Christmas for my family. On Saturday, I lost my step-father. His name was Michael Allen (Mike). He had been on dialysis for the past three years, but showed a rapid decline in health over the past two months. He had to retire from his day job and soon couldn't drive any more. He began to fall a lot and it became harder and harder to pick him up when he fell. It's still hard to talk about him in past tense.
On Saturday, after my mother picked him up from dialysis, he had what appeared to be a heart attack then silently slipped away. My mum tried to resuscitate him but with one final cough he was gone. We had learned in November that he only had about three months to live but after his last round of dialysis on Thursday, I knew he wouldn't make it to the New Year.
No matter how prepared we were, it still hurt. My mum said she was still shocked and some days it still doesn't feel real, but each passing day does make it easier. We've pretty much cancelled Christmas in our home, but I had to make a few gifts to show my heartfelt thanks to friends who have really supported me throughout the year. The first gift up is an infused whiskey for one of my best friend's Krista. I'd like to think Mike would've enjoyed this as well.
I used a half pint of Jack Daniels because she loves Jack Daniels. I looked up a few options for infusions with whiskey and found coffee and vanilla and vanilla and cherries. I figured, why not just combine both?
How to Infuse Booze
The only even slightly tricky part of infusing alcohol is narrowing down the flavors and deciding the amounts. You can infuse with almost anything: herbs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, spices, candy…you get the idea.
- Canning or mason jars, or large glass bottles with lids (make sure you can fit your ingredients in the mouth of the bottle)
- Alcohol of choice
- Infusion ingredients
- Packaging/ribbon and labels if you’re gifting
Put your infusion ingredients in the alcohol, cover tightly and store in a cool, dark place (a pantry is great). If you’re using fresh fruits, veggies or herbs, be sure to thoroughly wash and dry those ingredients first—use organic if possible.
Remove the ingredients after they’ve infused to your liking (see tips below), then strain the booze into your desired jars or just keep in your infusion vessel to use at home. If you’re gifting these, include a label, some pretty ribbon or packaging, and perhaps a cocktail recipe. It’s really that simple!
- To make sure you are able to infuse long enough, it’s best to start early—about 3 weeks before you want to gift or use the booze. If you get the flavor you want before that time, simply fish out/strain out the infusion ingredients, and store the booze until you’re ready to use or gift it.
- The ratio of infusion ingredients to alcohol varies. If I’m free-styling with my own combo, I look up a similar recipe, and use that as a basic guideline. You can always adjust.
- If you accidentally infuse too long, you can dilute with plain, unflavored booze as a last resort
- The longer everything sits in the alcohol, the stronger the flavor. It’s a good idea to taste your mixture every 5 days or so to see where it’s at.
- Generally, the more porous and intensely flavored the ingredients (coffee beans, fresh herbs), the quicker they will add flavor. This isn’t an exact science, which is why it’s good to taste as you go! If your lemon-basil vodka is getting too herb-y, remove the basil halfway through and let the lemon peel sit alone for longer.
- Vodka, brandy and whiskey are my favorites to work with. The booze is less nuanced, so complementary flavor profiles are easier to come up with.
- Rum or tequila will work too, although they lend themselves mainly to warm spices like cinnamon or clove, or tropical fruits like mango and lime.
- Gin is a little trickier since the juniper berry flavor is already very pronounced. I’ve seen recipes for infused gin using cucumber, citrus, lavender and earl grey tea, though.
- Middle-shelf alcohol is your best bet. No need to buy the most expensive, but don’t go bargain basement either! No amount of flavoring can salvage cheap booze :)
- If working with citrus, use only the peel (where the oils of the fruit are contained), and make sure to scrape off the bitter pith before using
- If you have trouble picking a flavor, think about how you would use the alcohol. Is it meant for sipping or to use in mixed drinks? For instance, if your infused vodka will be used in Bloody Mary's, think about what will work with that flavor profile.
Vanilla Cherry & Coffee Infused Whiskey
- 2 vanilla beans (split down the middle or 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract) + 1/8 cup coffee beans, slightly crushed with a mortar and pestle—or a plastic bag and wooden spoon
- 4-5 dried or fresh cherries (no need to pit)
If you try this or any infused alcohol recipe this holiday season, don't forget to tag me on Instagram @life_by_olivia. Stay safe and do not drink and drive!