5 Hacks That Totally Transform a Bottle of Vodka

We took a bottle of vodka and infused it with aromatics. Find out what worked and what didn’t.
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Photo By: Heather Ramsdell ©©Food Network 2016

Photo By: Heather Ramsdell ©©Food Network 2016

Photo By: Heather Ramsdell ©©Food Network 2016

Photo By: Heather Ramsdell ©©Food Network 2016

Photo By: Heather Ramsdell ©©Food Network 2016

Photo By: Heather Ramsdell ©©Food Network 2016

It All Starts with Vodka

Stock your bar with just two liters of 100-proof vodka and you can transform this one spirit into six with some clever infusions using easily found pantry items. We’ve made refreshing limoncello, chocolate liqueur, herbal gin, orange liqueur, a sort-of successful smoky mezcal and a valiant attempt at a sour apple liqueur. For this experiment, herbs, spices and even bacon came into play in flavoring these infusions. High-proof vodka was selected because the high alcohol content is best for extracting the essence of each ingredient. Note that 100 proof is as strong as it sounds; once you strain each flavor, you can adjust the alcohol concentration by adding roughly a quarter cup of water for the taste of a standard 80-proof spirit.

Photography by Heather Ramsdell and Karen Cohen

Chocolate Liqueur

We mimicked the flavor of this classic after-dinner drink by infusing high-proof vodka with bitter cocoa nibs and semisweet chocolate chips. Most chocolate liqueurs tend to run on the sweet side, so we added granulated sugar to increase the sugar content too.

How to Make Chocolate Liqueur

Combine 1/3 liter of 100-proof vodka with 1/4 cup cocoa nibs, 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate (coarsely chopped) and 2 tablespoons sugar in a clean 16-ounce Mason jar. Seal the jar tightly, and shake once a day for 5 days before straining the infusion into a separate container.

Gin

Juniper berry is usually the first thing you taste when sipping distilled gin. Here we used the expected juniper berries, and because we were infusing the flavors instead of distilling them, some coriander, fresh ginger root, citrus zest and other aromatics were added to create a fresh, herbal tasting gin with just the right amount of kick.

How to Make Gin

Combine 1/3 liter of 100-proof vodka with 1/4 cup juniper berries, 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds (lightly crushed), half a cinnamon stick, 2 green cardamom pods, 4 quarter-sized slices of ginger, one 2-by-1/2-inch piece of orange zest, and a matching piece of lemon zest in a 16-ounce Mason jar. Seal the jar tightly, and shake once a day for 5 days before straining the infusion into a separate container.

Limoncello

This lemon liqueur is bright, sweet and fresh. Creating this infusion required a simple combination of fresh lemon slices and lemon peel (the oils provide a hint of bitterness), plus some sugar to balance the intense flavorings.

How to Make Limoncello

Combine 1/3 liter of 100-proof vodka with the peel of 3 lemons (cut into strips), 1 slice of lemon and 2 tablespoons sugar in a clean 16-ounce Mason jar. Seal the jar tightly, and shake once a day for 5 days before straining the infusion into a separate container.

Orange Liqueur

Orange liqueur is often used in baking, for sipping and, of course, in cocktails (like margaritas). Here we drew the bitterness from the oils in the orange peels. Vanilla adds a smooth sweetness, and the charred orange peels and smoked wood chips mimic a mild barrel-aged flavor that some orange liqueurs, such as Grand Marnier, have.

How to Make Orange Liqueur

Combine 1/3 liter of 100-proof vodka with the zest from 2 oranges (cut into strips — lightly torch half the zest), a 1-inch piece of vanilla bean and 5 lightly toasted oak wood chips in a clean 16-ounce Mason jar. Seal the jar tightly and shake once a day for 5 days before straining the infusion into a separate container.

Mezcal

Mezcal’s strong smoky flavor sets it apart from other options on your bar cart. To re-create that distinct taste we added woodsy lapsang souchong black tea to the vodka, along with cooked bacon for smokiness, blanched cactus paddle and some baking spices. The result was mixed. It definitely had that mezcal funk; if you like that, this twist on the original might work for you.

How to Make Mezcal

Combine 1/3 liter of 100-proof vodka with 1 lapsang souchong tea bag, 1 slice of cooked bacon, eight 1-inch-long pieces of cactus paddle (blanched or canned), 1 whole allspice berry and 1 whole clove in a clean 16-ounce Mason jar. Seal the jar tightly and shake once a day for 5 days before straining the infusion into a separate container.

Vodka Fail: Sour Apple Liqueur

The sour apple liqueur from the liqueur store hardly conjures up memories of picking apples from an orchard, which is why we opted for sour apple candies to flavor this mock liqueur. Sadly, not all trials are successful, and we found the candy flavor didn’t infuse into the vodka, leaving it tasteless. Unlike like the natural ingredients in the other trials, the artificial flavoring did not work.

This attempt at producing a sour apple liquor failed, but in the name of transparency, here is what we did: We combined 1/3 liter of 100-proof vodka with 1/4 cup sour apple candy. We sealed and agitated the jar once a day for five days before straining.

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