Basil-infused gin, rosemary-infused Negroni, blood orange-, lime- and jalapeno-infused tequila, and an activated charcoal-, blackberry- and lime-infused rum. Photo by Jennifer Cabe

It all began with candy corn. Years ago a friend who loves cocktails as much as I do taught me how to infuse vodka with candy corn (yes, you read that right), resulting in a specialty Halloween drink like no other. I like to call it Cangie Corn Vodka, and it – followed shortly thereafter by my peppermint bark-infused tequila at Christmas – ignited my love of infusing my own spirits at home.

Infusing your own spirits is so easy that you’re going to wonder why you waited so long to try it. Once you start, it’s hard to stop. After I got one friend hooked on it, she admitted that the only reason she had stopped was because she had run out of jars. You have been warned.

Infusing spirits requires no complicated equipment, measuring or expertise. My kind of hobby. Sure, it’s nice if you have some Pinterest-worthy glass jars, but you can also just use coffee mugs.

A pineapple martini made with pineapple-infused mandarin orange vodka. Photo by Amy Gwinn-Becker

The concept is simple: Take whatever flavor you wish to infuse into your spirit and put it into a container of said spirit.  The stronger the flavor, the less time is needed for the item to infuse its flavor into the liquor. For example, chili peppers often need to be in the liquor (usually vodka or tequila) for a few hours, but milder flavors, such as pineapple, usually take a few days before the final product is ready. Feel free to taste during the waiting period so that you can assess how the flavor is evolving and so that you know when it’s strong enough for your palate. Once you’re satisfied, strain out the item (candy corn, chili pepper, pineapple, etc.) and your delicious beverage is ready for you to consume discreetly during boring Zoom calls.

A few things to keep in mind as you experiment:

1. In the beginning, don’t make an entire 750-milliliter bottle of anything – make a much smaller test portion (such as a glass or a coffee mug) until you’re confident that you actually like how it turns out. Friends don’t let friends waste alcohol (or candy corn).

2. It is much easier to infuse flavors into clear liquors (gin, vodka, tequila blanco, white rum, etc.) than into brown ones (dark rum, bourbon, etc.). You can also infuse additional flavors into already-flavored spirits, such as adding fresh basil to a berry-flavored vodka.

3. If you wish to combine multiple flavors in one infusion, you absolutely can do so – just remember that some elements might need to be removed earlier than other ones, such as in the case of a jalapeno-peach infusion.

4. The sky really is the limit when it comes to which flavors you can infuse: candies, fruits, spices, herbs and more – so play around and come up with your own signature infusions. If you do use spices, though, be sure to use the whole version and not the ground version, otherwise you won’t be able to strain it out once the flavor reaches its desired potency.

5. Unclear on how to use your new creation? Try it a number of different ways. I enjoy drinking the sweeter infusions ice-cold on their own, but I love using the herb-infused ones in cocktails (such as a Negroni made using rosemary-infused gin). Pepper-infused spirits are phenomenal when mixed with tomato juice or even fruit juice – I love a good jalapeno-grapefruit margarita. If you can find some inexpensive bottles at a thrift store or at the dollar store, homemade infusions make wonderful gifts. No need to tell the recipient how easy they were to make.

Angie Bryan is a former diplomat who is enjoying getting acquainted with her new home in Portland, one cocktail at a time.

A margarita, and frozen version, made with blood orange -, lime- and jalapeno-infused tequila. Photo by Jennifer Cabe

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