Infuse vodka for delicious, easy-to-handle homemade gifts

December 5 |
Photo by Jocelyn McAuley. Used under Creative Commons license.
My best friend and I have reached a point in our relationship where we pretty much only exchange alcohol, because we know we'll probably enjoy it together — but they can be great gifts for near-strangers, too. Obviously, booze prezzies aren't appropriate for everyone, but as long as you're confident the recipient isn't in recovery, liquor can be a great general-intereste gift with a bit more bite than a soap set. You can make the gift of a good bottle more personal by making it yourself with one of these recipes for infused vodka.

You will need:

  • Pretty bottles. I like swing tops, but you can use anything that creates a good seal: a Mason jar or a cork-top bottle, for example.
  • Alcohol. Vodka is the easiest to start with. Choose a decent brand, maybe?
  • Produce. You can use just about any combination of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Commonly used items include basil or oranges.
  • Time
  • A strainer
  • Mailing labels and a printer or markers

I'mma be straight with you: The recipes I found online vary wildly, and from that I took the lesson, "There's no one right way to infuse vodka." I'm sure some techniques make a better product than others, but I also feel pretty secure in assuming it's hard to completely fuck up alcohol when you aren't making said alcohol completely from scratch.

I started with an okay bottle of vodka: FRIS. Some recipes told me I should use GREAT vodka to start with, and others said the quality of vodka didn't matter much. I went with a bottle that was $10 on sale.

Select and wash your ingredients. Inspect them for gushiness and mold, and compost any grossberries. Cut them up if you need to. We had blackberries and raspberries in our fridge, and when I paired them with lemon zest the smell was enticing, so I threw some peel in there as well.

Drink some of the vodka so as to make room for the infusion. We took out a half a tumbler of drink and used it to make screwdrivers.

Add ingredients to bottle.

Shake.

Let bottle infuse, shaking once per day. This is another area where I found a lot of variance: some sites had identical recipes attached to personal testimonies, each prescribing a different time span that the infusion must age. One bloggess told me to put the blackberry vodka in the fridge overnight and enjoy the next day, while others told me the bottle needed to steep for two months.

I let mine sit for five days and it turned out just fine. Different ingredients infuse differently, so your mileage may vary. The good news is: if you have an extra bottle or are making your infusion for personal use, you can test as it ages.

Photo by Jocelyn McAuley. Used under Creative Commons license.
[related-post align="right"]When the vodka's all grown up you can strain it into its new bottle. Then it needs one final touch: your personal label. Pick up a pack of mailing labels, and print or draw a message on them. Save this step until last, as some inks can run when wet.

Gather your ingredients, and get to gifting. If you can't figure out what to put in that bottle, check out Grandma Club's little collection of recipes for limoncello and other liqueurs, or give basil vodka some consideration.

  1. !!
    Perfect timing. The Xmas budget is tight this year, so I've been looking for some cheapie ways to still give awesome presents. I'm also planning a buttload of candy!

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    • YAH! Just imagine them all packaged up nicely, with a funny/cute/pretty label you make! MM! Booze.

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  2. One blog I love for drink recipes is Dale Mackey's (http://dalemackey.wordpress.com/). In the section called "domesticity" there's recipes for these types of infusions and more, as well as cocktail recipes to use them in! I haven't gotten to try many myself, but usually just reading the recipe makes me feel like I've just had a refreshing homemade cocktail!

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  3. last year, my sister-in-law gave us a cool bottle of vodka with vanilla beans in it — homemade vanilla extract! =) it's delicious, and WAY less expensive (because the beans practically last forever).

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    • I seriously and for real just bought a bottle with three vanilla beans in it to give me mom for Yuletide. It was marketed as perpetual vanilla and cost just under ten dollars.

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    • I did this about two years ago and I'm still using the bottle. It is fantastic!

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    • Jack Daniels also works terrifically for making vanilla extract, for a more bourbony flavor.

      I've done lots of infused-vodka extracts over the years. The big stars:

      – cinnamon sticks (warning: they *will* swell up and turn into a solid block in your bottle), which produce a delicate and utterly heavenly cinnamon flavor after a week to a month, and then over time turn into a powerful no-holds-barred spicy cinnamon extract that will teach you why cinnamon red-hots are, well, red-hot. You can decant them into a new bottle at any time to stop the infusion.

      – Fresh raspberries or blueberries. For mild-flavored drinking, about 1.5 cups per 16 oz bottle seems to work well, but I've often done larger quantities and cycled the fruit through twice for a stronger flavor. Yum. Also, that fruit is hella alcoholic.

      – Dried fruit, particularly the Trader Joe's white peaches. You get a stronger flavor faster from the dried stuff than the fresh, presumably because there's no water diluting it. Again, the larger the quantity of fruit you put in, the stronger it will be. The peach one smells like summer heaven, and is *perfect* for flavoring white chocolate truffles.

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  4. Another option is using candy, rather than fruit or herbs, to infuse vodka. Peppermint sticks, Jolly Ranchers, etc. all dissolve really quickly and made delicious flavored vodkas. :)

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    • This is the only DIY version I'd heard of before. Specifically involving Skittles and a great deal of debate about the best colours to combine. If you're feeling particularly ambitious you can get several little bottles and make packs of 'rainbow vodka'.

      I have to admit though, as much as pouring cheap candy into cheap vodka brings back some great memories of being a student using real fruit does seem much more grown up and sophisticated.

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      • Oh, TOTALLY. Fruit is way classier than candy. The candy thing is a good option when:

        a) you're short on time. The longer you let fruit sit in vodka, the more it infuses and blends. Candy is as infused as it's going to get within a few days.
        b) you want something sweet. You can add simple syrup or cane sugar to fruit and vodka to make a cordial, but it's hard to get the ratios right the first time.
        c) you have concerns about the sources of your fruit. Organic, unwaxed, pesticide-free fruit is absolutely the best way to go. If you're giving this as a gift to someone, wash the hell out of your fruit! If you're using citrus, scrub that skin!
        d) cost is a factor and you're a perfectionist like me. I'd rather make my friends peppermint-flavored vodka they can add to their hot chocolate (3 days, 15 bucks, presents for 10 people!) than try to make a cordial for them that might not turn out (3 months, 20 bucks+, presents for 5-10 people provided that it all turns out correctly).

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        • Just to clarify I didn't mean any critisism of candy flavoured vodka with that last comment. I was pretty much just thinking out loud that I associate it with broke students whereas fruit infused vodka seems fancy and exotic because I'd only just found out you could do it yourself.

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          • Hey, thanks for that! I thought it was a little snarky at the time, but not a big deal. No hard feelings. :) You rock!

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  5. Oh and! If you run your shitty vodka through a Brita filter 1-3 times, the taste improves DRAMATICALLY. Just saying.

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    • Yep. The Mythbusters showed it really, really helps — though top shelf will still be better than bottom shelf.

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    • Can I tell you how much you have just improved my impoverished grad student life (and pocketbook)? Haha!

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  6. A cinnamon stick left in vodka for a week, served in apple juice = pie flavoured beverage to DIE for.

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    • I worked at a restaurant that infused it's own vodka. The best was "apple pie" — cinnamon stick, Ginger root, whole nutmeg, cloves, and granny smith apple slices. So. Freakin. Amazing.

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      • I may or may not be stealing this idea for some of my holiday gifts this year. Thanks!! :D

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  7. If you have a Costco nearby, check out their Kirkland brand vodka. Relatively cheap, and a really great vodka to start with.

    Definitely gonna try this!

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    • I'm pretty sure the Kirkland vodka is just repackaged Grey Goose. It is good, but it's got more of a potato taste to it than I like. If you have a Trader Joe's near you, a great, almost flavorless brand is their Black Sea vodka ($14.99 for 750 ml).

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      • Ahh, none of the Trader Joe's near us sell liquor. I had no idea any did! Gonna be on the lookout for that!

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  8. You can also make vanilla extract in this way… it's not cheap, as you need loads of vanilla beans (and it does take time–the longer it steeps, the better the extract), but the result is outstanding and it makes a great gift!

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  9. Don't forget the spicy! A few hot peppers in vodka is awesome for a bloody mary. Add on homemade bloody mary mix- and you've made something even better!

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  10. To help labels last longer spray them with a clear coat spray paint first. They'll last longer – we do it to all our long term stored meads.

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  11. A few years ago I used my etrog from Sukkot to make vodka to drink at Purim. Best purim ever!! I used the peel and fruit (not the pith, which is what etrog mostly is). People loved it!! And a great way to tie two super-cool Jewish holidays together.

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  12. I've heard of separating out the skittles colors and making small amounts of each. Drink the rainbow!

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  13. Friend of mines dad used to make this with chilli and rosemary, I'm fairly certain he'd leave it for a couple years… he called it dragons breath.

    for prettyness, once its been strained into the pretty bottle you could add a fresh whole one of whatever you've had in there? Maybe not with berries, but a nice curl of rind, a whole chilli, or a couple springs of herbs?

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    • My mum buys absinthe where they do this and it definately does look cool. Also gives you a hint of what to expect from the flavour.

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  14. Cutest packaging!!!! And I need to start doing this like I always say I will every year for the holidays. Thanks for the inspiration! Now, to find the motivation…!

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  15. I've done quick made blackcurrant vodka which I think I kept for about two weeks and was ok. I actually ended up making rather a fool of myself at a friends party where nearly everyone else was sober so um yeah…

    I have damson gin and sloe and apple gin on the go at the moment. They've been in demijohns for a few months. I've heard from some people that you can drink it for christmas that year and then i've heard from others that you should really leave it for a year or more. But thats more for a liqueur I guess.

    My Grandma gave me these demijohns as she could no longer lift them and she passed away last Monday so this is going to be pretty special gin and I think we'll have to have a taste this winter. :)

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  16. I am all about the infusion recipes in the preserving/canning book "Put 'Em Up!" The recipes I have tried call for "not-your-best" vodka, bourbon, etc – and for those I totally used bottom-shelf stuff because I take the instruction "not-you-best" SERIOUSLY.

    The hubz LOVED the pear-vodka (using pears from my parents' back yard, a cinnamon stick, and maybe other things I have forgotten) – so much so that he and his menfolk drank half at his bachelor party and the rest waiting for the wedding.

    Another recipe in the book was for appled-brandy. That one went over well at a dinner party as an adult-addition to apple cider, and we also used recently to make a nice brandy-cream sauce for meat (also included in the book).

    Oh, and for labeling/storing, we were super un-fancy since they were for ourselves: We put the pear vodka back in the original vodka bottle and made a label out of duct tape and permanent marker, and the appled-brandy is currently sitting in a reusable water bottle with our other liquors/liqueurs. We'd probably try to doll it up more if it was a gift.

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  17. I feel the need to share that reading these comments as someone who never drinks is like visiting a foreign country. Slightly confusing, but very intriguing.

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  18. Ditto the suggestion of packaging it w/a whole drink's fixings — very classy & not that hard. Or just add a little something extra: cranberry infused vodka & some fresh limes is a hint of a cosmo, for example. Heck, go to the thrift store & add a martini glass for 50 cents, & then the whole thing looks like some awesome gift package from a fancy boutique, but it's homemade.

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    • I'm definitely planning on doing that when I give these as gifts. Basil-infused vodka sounds super classy but somewhat intimidating if you don't know what to mix it with. A nicely written recipe attached with a ribbon will look nice, I think.

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  19. I wish I had read this post last week, when I filtered and labelled all my sweet chestnut liqueur for Christmas gifts… Because my own label is way less interesting than the ones pictured.

    But yay, homemade infused alcool makes for great gifts. I haven't read everything, but if you're running out of time and cannot let your fruit alcool sit for a long time, I suggest cheating and using fruit syrup. Throw some spices in the mix for a sweet beverage. Last year my apple syrup/cinnamon liqueur was a hit!

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  20. Guys, guys, can we please focus on what is clearly the most important point of the article?

    The bottom picture is vodka infused with bacon. BACON, PEOPLE!

    Stuff the fruit, I'm having me a bacon Bloody Mary! :D

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    • Ah yes, Bacon vodka. My husband has made both Bacon Vodka and Bacon Bourbon.

      It's easy with delicious results. You cook about a pound of bacon, eat bacon. Drain the fat into a glass bottle and add in alcohol. Lid it and shake that thang every 5 minutes or so until the fat solidifies mostly. Turn jar upside down and stick in the freezer. When fat is totally solid you pour the liquid into another bottle. Filter with coffee filters until liquor is clear.

      That my friends, is how you fat wash alcohol.

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  21. We're gifting homemade lemon and orange-cello to peoples this year. The manflesh did bacon vodka and bourbon last year.

    I really want to use berries and mint next.

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  22. brrrrilliant! i'm making chocolates for friends this year and it occurred to me this morning that the chocolates i'm planning to make are waaaayyy too complicated to make lots of.. this'll be the perfect accompaniment! :D thanks!

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  23. Has anyone other than the one person tried dried fruit to flavor vodkas? I'm living in thailand where the only way to get good western fruits cheap is to have them in dried form.

    Ideas?

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