Are you tired of celebrating the festive season with the same boring cocktails? If so, you’ll love these alcohol infusions! And, if you’re planning to throw a year end bash, you better get started soon, say Dev Goswami & Katha Nauriyal
Sipping on red wine on Christmas Eve, or having vodka shots at a New Year’s Eve party may be your favourite way to celebrate the season, but we’ve found a better way to bid farewell to 2015. Are you willing to try something different this year? Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting a dry season! Instead, this will help make your experience much more unique and enjoyable — alcohol infusions!
WHY SHOULD YOU TRY IT?
“If there’s one thing that alcohol does well (apart from keeping you in high spirits!), it’s extracting flavours from herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables”, says Lalit Waghmare, bar manager at blueFROG. “Think of infusing flavours into alcohol as developing a new recipe in the kitchen — there’s so much room to experiment, so many different flavours to try out and exciting results to look forward to, that we can’t wait to try it out ourselves. It can even be a fun hobby,” says Peter Sethi, assistant restaurant manager at Sofitel Mumbai, BKC. And, the best part is, as Lalit tells us, “It’s not very difficult to create these concoctions.”
The first step is to recognise what flavours work best with the liquor that you pick. And, before that, it may be a good idea to zero down on your base spirit. The obvious frontrunner here is vodka. Peter explains why by saying, “Vodka works well with infusions because it doesn’t have any taste or colour and is also odourless.” So, if you’re just beginning to experiment with alcohol and flavours, sticking to vodka is a safe option, because it allows more room for error.”
Arjun Chaudhary, mixologist at Pa Pa Ya, adds, “Gin, tequila, light rum, whisky and brandy can also be infused with flavours.” But, it will certainly be more challenging to create these infusions because you need to know enough about the spirit in order to infuse it correctly. And, as Vardhaman Choksi, owner of Escobar explains, “Infusing dark alcohol is particularly tricky because choosing the right flavours to compliment the spirit is often a challenge. “
CHOOSING YOUR FLAVOURS
By now, you probably understand what we meant when we said that alcohol infusions are all about experimenting with both your flavour palate as well as the spirits. Rosemary, star anise and orange are great flavours to start off with, and as Peter explains, “All of these not only have a good aroma, but they also enhance flavours.” Here are a few more ideas that you can use, divided according to the base spirit that you pick.
- Vodka Lalit and Arjun tell us that vodka works best with fresh fruits and herbs. The flavours that you can try include berries, watermelon, pear, chilli and jalapenos. You can even try vanilla, peppermint or cinnamon to make a vodka infusion that you can simply serve on the rocks or as chilled shots, says Lalit.
- Gin When you’re using gin, remember to choose flavours that do not overpower the palate. Arjun tells us that this is because gin already has a strong flavour of juniper berries, so you should pick something more subtle. Lalit suggests using citrus flavours such as orange or lime zest to add a refreshing touch to your gin infusion.
- Whisky Now, this is a tough one. As Lalit puts it, “Infusing flavours into whisky is an art, because whisky has its own character.” There aren’t many flavours that will go well with whisky; a few that you can try include coffee, tea, figs and herbs. Fresh apple with honey is another option, which is also happens to be Lalit’s personal favourite.
WHAT TO DO
Add chunks, slices and bits of the ingredients (the flavour you use) into a Mason jar that is filled with the spirit that you’re using for the infusion and then screw it shut. The crucial bit here is the timing. Lalit explains, “Do not steep alcohol for too long. If it is left for too long, it can turn your infusion bitter, or the strong flavours of spices will overpower your taste buds when you’re drinking it.”
Arjun explains that intense flavours such as betel leaf, kaffir lime, mint and cucumber will take around 4-5 days to incorporate the right amount of flavour. “Moderate flavours such as rosemary, sage, peach, pears, raspberry and blueberry around a week, while mild flavours such as coffee, lemongrass and vanilla take longer, around 9-10 days,” he adds.
Another thing to remember is that the Mason jar you use for the process should be clean and airtight, says Peter. Vardhaman also tells us about a few minor aspects that you must keep in mind — taste the concoction every few days (don’t keep the jar open while tasting) to check for the intensity of flavours, and always use fresh ingredients.
USING THE INFUSIONS
So, you’ve worked hard to get that perfect, flavoured spirit. What do you do with it? You can drink them as they are (with a complimentary mixer of course) or have a few shots. You can also mix them into cocktails or use them in the kitchen. We’ve got a few good ideas to help you out.
Simple cocktails most refreshing, but sometimes, you may want to add in an extra punch of flavour. And, this is the best time of year to do so! Mixing cocktails with infused alcohol is a great last-minute hack that can win you title of the best host without making an effort. Here are a few tips.
- If you have citrus-flavoured liquor on hand, you can add it to a vodka-based cocktail. This will lend a regular cocktail a fun twist. Citrus flavours are versatile and pair well with vodka cocktails.
- If you’re serving your guests a rum-based cocktail, you can use ginger-flavoured alcohol, which also goes well with the smoky flavour of scotch.
- Readymade lychee liquor is easily available and taste great with sparkling wine or champagne. Additionally, dark rum cocktails or daiquiri that contain lychee liquor are popular options. The lychee flavour helps to soften the otherwise strong flavour of alcohol.
Eat your infusions!
We know how much you love your alcohol, but we also know that you love food! And, flavoured alcohol can be a great addition to your favourite dessert recipes. Here are a couple of recipes that use infused alcohol for an extra boost of flavour.
Hot Kahlua Soufflé from Joss
30g egg whites, 0.5g baking powder, 15ml Kahlua and 50g chocolate
- Take a clean bowl and wipe it dry. Make sure that it is clean as any foreign substance will prevent the eggs from forming peaks or stiffening.
- Add in the egg whites and baking powder and beat the mixture till it forms stiff peaks.
- Pour in the Kahlua and melted chocolate and gently fold it in till it’s all combined.
- Pour into small ramekin bowls and bake in the oven at 245°C for 12-15 minutes.
Kahlua Chocolate Cake by Vinod Garde, chef at Pot Pourri
Ingredients for the cake:
517g chocolate cake mix, 30g unsweetened cocoa powder, 5g ground cinnamon, 177ml Kahlua, 177ml buttermilk, 118ml vegetable oil and
3 large eggs
Ingredients for frosting:
544g unsweetened cocoa powder, 88ml boiling water, 44ml Kahlua, 120g softened butter, softened, 946 confectioners'’sugar, 5g ground cinnamon
- Preheat the oven to 180° C. and grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Dust with flour and shake out any excess flour. Set these aside.
- In a stand-up mixer with a paddle attachment, mix the cake mix, cocoa, cinnamon, Kahlua, buttermilk, oil and eggs on a low speed for one minute, stopping only to scrape the sides when necessary. Mix until the batter is smooth.
- Divide the batter between the two cake pans and smoothen the top with the back of a spoon or spatula. Bake the cakes for 28 to 30 minutes, or until they spring back when lightly pressed with your finger.
- Cool the cakes on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each layer and flip the cakes onto a rack. Gently flip them over again onto another rack so that they are the right side up. Allow to cool completely.
- To prepare your frosting, add cocoa powder, boiling water and Kahlua to a large bowl and stir until it’s well-combined. Add in the butter and blend until the mixture is smooth. Add in the confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon and beat until the sugar has been incorporated into the mix. Raise your mixer speed to medium and beat until the frosting is fluffy. This should take around two minutes.
- Once the cake has cooled down completely, place one of the cake layers right side up on a cake plate or cake stand. Frost the top of the layer. Place the second layer on top, frost the top and sides of the cake and allow it to stand for a bit. Slice and serve