© Christina Holmes
It’s an essential tenet of mixology: Great drinks start with quality spirits. But when the liquor on hand would be more appropriate at a frat party than a cocktail bar, don’t give up. “Throw some fruit in there and kick-start an infusion,” suggests Brandon Lockman, a bartender at the Red Star Tavern, in Portland, Oregon.
Here, Lockman shares ideas for fantastic infusions for every spirit, plus the perfect summer cocktails to make with them.
“My best infusion is tequila with jalapeño. You definitely want to infuse tequila with spicy things, but you have to be careful; that heat needs to be balanced with sweetness in a cocktail.”
Summer cocktail idea: Spicy margaritas.
“When you have vodka, you have a neutral-based spirit: no flavor, no odor, no color. You can do anything you want. One thing I’ve done is a vanilla-and-pineapple infusion. I put the vanilla bean in first, give that a day, and then put the pineapple in because it infuses quickly. Strain it through a coffee filter or cheesecloth to get all the pulp out.”
Summer cocktail idea: Shake the infused vodka with ice, and add a squeeze of lemon to balance the sweetness.
“Gin infusions are tough, because it’s made with botanicals already. [Honeyed, floral] figs work really nicely with the juniper. Dried figs take more time to infuse but are easier to control. If you want something fast, use fresh figs.”
Summer cocktail idea: A Martinez. “The fig and the sweet vermouth play off each other really well,” says Lockman. Since the drink only has a few other ingredients, the fig flavor can really shine.
White Rum: Warm Spices
“If you have a cheap white rum and want to spruce it up, you can throw spices in there like cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, to imitate an aged rum. Take your spices, wrap them in in cheesecloth or a coffee filter and dunk it inside your bottle. You’ll get a little bit of flavor after a day, but you want to let it sit for two to three days.”
Summer cocktail idea: Use the faux-aged rum in a tiki or tropical cocktail, like a rum punch or a mai tai.
Whiskey: Stone Fruits
“Use everything from cherries to peaches.” The summery sweetness works well with the flavors created by grains like corn.
Summer cocktail idea: Use in old-fashioneds, Manhattans or whiskey sours. Or mix with good apple juice and cranberry juice, shake with ice and strain.