Whiskey isn't typically widely available in many flavors; you'll sometimes find caramel whiskeys and occasionally coffee or orange, but whiskey is usually distilled and then left alone. But if you're dreaming of bigger flavors, or whipping up your own unique cocktails, then making infused whiskey is the key to unlocking the door.
Choosing a Whiskey to Infuse
When choosing a whiskey, you can opt for either a rye or bourbon to infuse. It's essential to keep in mind that rye and bourbon will have unique flavor profiles before you even begin to infuse flavors. Rye has a spicier, peppery flavor, often with a bite on the finish. Bourbon, by contrast, is usually a bit smoother, with mellow flavors such as caramel or oak and not as much of a bite as rye. Neither the spicy nor sweet are spicy like jalapeños or sweet like candy, but rather the rye is spicy like black pepper, and the bourbon has whispers of sweetness like caramel.
Whichever you choose, don't go top shelf with your choice just yet, as you'll be altering the very essence of the whiskey. Consider Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Old Grand-Dad Bourbon, Bulleit Rye or Bourbon, Crown, and other whiskeys at similar price points. Do avoid absolute bottom shelf bottoms because you don't want your infusion to burn or be too grainy.
It's important to note that rye and bourbon can pair well with the same flavors. However, some may shine a little better, both logistically and personal preference. A chocolate-infused rye will have a different taste than a chocolate-infused bourbon, and the whiskeys will be delicious but in their unique ways. After you gain a little experience infusing your whiskey with distinct flavors, you can start to add flavor pairings, such as chocolate and orange, smoke and bacon, or pear and brown sugar.
When you're deciding on a bottle of whiskey, opt for a smaller bottle or infuse only a small batch just in case the infusion doesn't work out the way you hoped; this can help you feel as though you've not lost a considerable expense. A small whiskey bottle, such as a 200mL bottle, is a great choice. You can also divide a 1L bottle into smaller amounts to explore and play with several different infusions at once. If you want to go big, you can infuse an entire 500mL to 1.5L at a time.
You can pick up most of what you want to infuse your whiskey with from the grocery store. Because whiskey already has a hearty profile, you can seamlessly infuse it with both sweet and savory flavors. After you know the direction you want to go, you can opt for fruit, nuts, herbs, spices, and several pantry staples such as sweet potatoes, maple syrup, and chocolate. Whatever you decide to infuse your whiskey with, write down your process each time. There's no reason not to remember how to turn straw into gold.
How to Infuse Whiskey
Before you start infusing anything into your whiskey, ensure that you wash all of your fruits and fresh herbs and discard anything with blemishes or past their prime. Only after washing thoroughly and drying will those ingredients be ready. Be cautious about adding too much white or brown sugar to your infusions, as this can make the whiskey infusion too sweet; however, you can play with ratios as you learn. You don't want your infused whiskey old-fashioned or Manhattan to be cloying.
How to Make Infused Whiskey With Fruits and Nuts
Not all ingredients will require the same formula for the right amount of flavor. A quarter cup of pecans will yield a different result than a quarter cup of maple syrup.
- It can help to think of a ratio of 1:3, 1 part infusion to 3 parts whiskey.
- For smaller ingredients, such as berries, you'll want to use a full cup for every three cups of whiskey you'll be infusing.
- If you're using larger fruits, such as apples or oranges, you'll use a whole fruit for every three cups of whiskey.
You can easily modify this ratio for a more pronounced or lighter fruit infusion. When infusing fruit, you'll want to cut the fruit into smaller pieces. You can either leave them unpeeled or add the peels to the mix along with the fruit. Gently crack or slightly crush any nuts you might use, such as almonds or pecans.
Making Sweet Potato-Infused Wiskey
You wouldn't necessarily infuse a whiskey with vegetables, the exception being sweet potatoes. Peel those completely first as you wouldn't necessarily be able to get all of the dirt off, and you don't want any dirt flavors. After peeling, you can cut your potato into slices or small cubes. One medium potato to three cups of whiskey is a great place to start.
Infusing Whiskey With Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices can vary in how flavor-forward they can be in a final product. Whole herbs and spices can follow a ratio of 2:3 or 3:3, depending on how much flavor you want in your infusion. You should use three whole sprigs or sticks with whole herbs and spices such as rosemary or cinnamon. If you're looking to have an herbaceous whiskey and need to use leafier herbs, bundle several sprigs, approximately five or six, such as thyme or sage. As you learn herb and spice proportions, it can be helpful to start with small-batch infusions.
If you're using dried herbs or spices, secure those in cheesecloth or a tea infuser, but your large, whole herbs and spices you can allow to float freely. Although you'll be straining the whiskey before using it, it's still best to keep any ingredients contained as best as you can.
While not an herb or a spice, infusing whiskey with bacon follows a similar ratio, you'll use three pieces of cooked bacon, sliced, for every three cups of whiskey.
Infusing Whiskey With Smoke
Whiskey is best infused with smoke on a drink-by-drink basis or just before serving the smoke-infused whiskey. You can do this by building your drink in a mixing glass and using a cocktail smoker or smoking gun, and some often let you smoke several at once. You can even smoke a small jar or bottle of whiskey, quickly capping the bottle and allowing it to infuse for approximately 10-15 minutes.
When it comes time to steep, you can infuse your whiskey directly in their original bottles, depending on the ingredient and the size of the opening, or other clean jars or bottles. If you decide to use a large bottle, or you want to separate your whiskey into different infusion batches, evenly distribute the ingredients and whiskey between your chosen vessels. After sealing, swirl your jars or bottles. Store your gently mixed containers in a cool, dark place for three to four days. Be sure to give them a gentle whirl each day, as well.
Following the fourth day, the whiskey infusion should be ready. Carefully pour a splash into a glass to sample your product. If there isn't enough flavor infusion for your liking, continue to steep, following the same steps, until it's the right profile for you. If the newly infused whiskey meets your criteria, you'll begin to strain your infusions.
A cheesecloth is the best choice for the job, although a fine mesh strainer or even coffee filters also make great options. First, remove all of the larger ingredients by hand so they don't clog the filter. This includes any fruits, citrus peels, or large herbs and spices. With your funnel and filter on hand, slowly pour your infused whiskey into a new clean jar or bottle. Throw away the leftover infusion ingredients--or enjoy a boozy fruit bite! Carefully seal your newly infused whiskey after filtering to avoid any accidents.
Once you have strained and sealed everything, you can use your infused whiskey right away. You can also carefully store your jars or bottles of unused whiskey to keep it at its best. Stash it in a cool, dry place, similar to where you allowed them to steep. Whether or not you reveal this location to friends and family for them to try your newest project is up to you. The infusion has a long shelf life, but the flavors are best when enjoyed within a year or so. Discard if flavors start to fade or the whiskey tastes off.
Infused Whiskey Flavor Ideas and Pairings
You can infuse your whiskey with a broad range of flavors, so consider these a springboard of ideas.
Spice Infused Whiskey Flavors
Go ahead and play off the firm backbone whiskey offers by adding spices to the mix to create a new complex flavor.
- Black pepper
- Star anise
- Whole vanilla bean
Herb Whiskey Flavors
An herb-forward-infused whiskey adds an earthy zest to any cocktail.
Fruit and Citrus Whiskey Flavors
Give your whiskey a touch of citrus to brighten up the flavors.
- Honorary fruit: sweet potato
Nut Whiskey Flavors
Give your whiskey a whisper of nuttiness to give a modern spin to any whiskey cocktail.
Experimental Infused Whiskey Flavors
Think outside the whiskey box and even make up a few flavors you'd never find in stores.
- Brown sugar
- Maple syrup
- Root beer candies or other hard candies such as Atomic cinnamon
Start your pairing journey with these easy matches, then start to experiment.
- Maple syrup + bacon
- Apple + cinnamon
- Lemon + peach
- Grapefruit + honey
- Peanuts + strawberry
- Raspberry + brown sugar
Mixing Up Your Infused Whiskey
You're one step closer to an extraordinary drink whenever you use infused whiskey in a cocktail.
Infused Whiskey Old-Fashioned
Whiskey takes front and center stage in a classic old-fashioned; you can give it new life by introducing a flavor.
Infused Whiskey Manhattan
Liven up your classic Manhattan with infused whiskey.
- 2 ounces infused whiskey
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth
- 2-3 dashes aromatic bitters
- Cocktail cherry for garnish
- Chill a martini glass or coupe.
- In a mixing glass, add ice, infused whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters.
- Stir rapidly to chill.
- Strain into chilled glass.
- Garnish with cocktail cherry.
Infused Whiskey Irish Coffee
Skip the flavored creamer or added liqueur by using an infused whiskey in this warm cocktail.
- 2 ounces infused whiskey
- 1 ounce Irish cream
- Freshly brewed coffee to top off
- Whipped cream for garnish
- Warm a mug by filling with hot water.
- After mug is warm to touch, pour out the water.
- In warm mug, add infused whiskey, Irish cream, and coffee.
- Stir to mix.
- Garnish with whipped cream.
Infused Whiskey for Smoldering Cocktails
Don't be shy when it comes to adding flavors to your whiskey; be it rye or bourbon, both can withstand a little zest and curiosity when it comes to infused whiskey. And if you find yourself with an abundance of infusions, there's no chance your friends will decline a small share.