Try this cocktail DIY at home
A step-by-step guide to infusing your own booze
Recently, as I browsed the aisles of Total Wine & More, I couldn't believe how many flavored vodkas were stocked on the shelves there. Wait—I can drink alcohol that tastes like peaches? Or coconut? Or chocolate-sprinkled doughnuts?
The sound of some of those dessert-flavored liquors actually just made me want to gag, but the thought of naturally infused alcohol used in a cocktail with complementary ingredients sounded intriguing. I caught up with Balele Shoka, a bartender at Piatti (571 Pavilions Lane) who infuses vodkas with seasonal fruits, to ask about his method and how people can follow suit at home.
Piatti's shelves are stocked with flavored vodkas, too, but you won't find red-velvet cupcake or gingerbread-icing ones here. Rather, Shoka keeps bottles of Akvinta, a certified organic vodka, behind the bar—it's naturally flavored with lemons, blackberry and lime, and white nectarine and CandyCot (a Turkish apricot).
Shoka says infusing the vodka at Piatti with seasonal fruits allows the bar to play with flavor profiles for cocktails without having to stock commercially infused vodkas. He says the alcohol tastes better, too.
“A lot of the flavored vodkas are made with chemicals or powders that make you thirst more,” Shoka said. “If I can pull away from anything in the vodka that isn't doing anything more than the drink is doing, I will.”
Want to try it at home? The steps to infusing alcohol are easy: 1. Choose a booze. 2. Score some fruit. 3. Combine booze and fruit, and: 4. Enjoy newly flavored booze. There is some technique involved, according to Shoka, but the fun part is the experiment.
“I never know how it's going to taste,” said Shoka. “It's kind of a shot in the dark. There is some space to get lost in it.”
Fully inspired, I set out to try my hand at infusing some vodka with Shoka's steps.
1. “Find some stock vodka.”
I visit Costco to find the cheapest stuff possible. Kirkland American vodka, 1.75 liters for $13. Yeah, buddy.
2. “Find good fruit that you want to use.”
Shoka said citrus is a great way to start, but I didn't want to just do lemons, so I grabbed some tangerines instead. Influenced by Shoka's blackberry-lime vodka, I picked up blackberries. I also want to try pineapple. Because I love pineapple.
3. “Combine booze and fruit.”
This is where the technique comes in.
“Get your all trusty zester [or vegetable peeler],” Shoka said. “Wash your fruit, and peel the fruit. Snap the bands of the fruit. It releases the oils of the fruit. It also opens up the pores so the vodka can attack and pull out the sweetness or sugars.”
I place my washed, cut, peeled and snapped fruit in some mason jars, fill them to the top with vodka and seal them up. In just a few days, the infusions will be ready.
4. “Drink up.”
There is no approximate time frame for the vodka to reach maximum taste, according to Shoka, so I taste mine after about three days. The pineapple and tangerine vodkas turn out awesome. The tangerines add an aromatic punch with a sweet citrus taste. The pineapple vodka is tropical and fruity, but I think the blackberry vodka might just need more time—that's OK, at least some of the fun is in the waiting.