It’s getting toward the end of the year, and if your 2011 New Year’s resolution was anything like mine—more day drinking—then you’re probably realizing right about now that your best intentions quietly slipped away sometime in … well, let’s face it, early January. Damn work.
But unlike with all your other failed resolutions, there’s still time for this one before the clock strikes 2012.
“But Leila,” I can almost hear you saying, “when will I find time for all this merrymaking? I have things to do! Presents to buy! Holiday parties to attend!”
First of all, quit your whining. Second, I have a solution to all of these problems and more, because you and I are getting ready to make infused liquor as holiday gifts for all your friends and (selected) family. Infused liquor is delicious, quick and easy and fun to make, and is appreciated both at holiday parties and as gifts. And you’re pretty much forced to taste it as it infuses! So let’s Martha Stewart it up and make some homemade gifts, shall we?
Here’s what you do:
Go to the liquor store. See? Fun already! Vodka is the easiest spirit to infuse because it doesn’t already have much of a flavor. If you go with a darker spirit, choose a brand that isn’t overly flavorful. I use Dripping Springs Vodka, and The Dude at the Liquor Store recommended Ezra Brooks whiskey. (Pro tip: buy the biggest bottles of liquor you can find.)
Go to the grocery store. Wander around aimlessly in the produce section and the spice section examining your flavor options until the employees start giving you suspicious looks. (Some people might argue that you should choose your flavors before going to the store, but then, some people are just argumentative.) Anyway, just about any fruit makes for great infusions, and so do herbs and spices, such as lavender or cinnamon sticks or mint leaves or chiles. Stronger flavors like cherry, cinnamon, coffee and orange go well with whiskey, and pretty much anything goes with vodka. Get creative! My favorites have been blueberry and lemon zest vodka, cucumber and lemon zest vodka—I like lemon—and cinnamon and orange whiskey. (Pro tip: resist sampling the liquor before choosing flavors to prevent ending up with infusions such as jalapeño-pillbug vodka.)
When you get home, though, you should definitely sample the liquors to make sure they haven’t gone bad, which, as any Arrested Development fan will tell you, is a big risk. In fact, you’d better just make yourself a lemon drop martini, because if you’re anything like me you bought like 20 lemons and are now wondering what the hell you’re going to do with them all.
Thoroughly wash out some empty glass spaghetti sauce, kombucha and/or peanut butter jars. Prepare your fruit—de-stone cherries, peel and scoop the seeds out of cucumbers (so the infusion doesn’t get bitter), slice strawberries in quarters—and toss it into the jars to about a quarter to half full. I tend to err on the side of too much flavor, because you can always add more liquor at the end. If you’re using lavender, go with about a tablespoon; cinnamon, a stick or two. As you can tell, it’s a pretty exact science. If you’re using citrus, remove the zest with a potato peeler and only use that part, as the pith is bitter and the innards can just be squeezed in later rather than letting them soak up your vodka in the infusion process. (Speaking of which, isn’t it about time for another lemon drop? Waste not, want not, etc., etc., and what the hell else are we going to do with all these naked, zestless lemons?)
Fill the jars with liquor. Make sure the alcohol covers the fruit entirely (some fruit will float; that’s OK). Put the jars in a cool, dry place (vodka is OK in the fridge, but dark liquors should be kept out, according to The Dude at the Liquor Store). Shake them around a few times a day. As far as I can tell, there are two reasons for doing this: it’s fun, and it makes you feel like you’re doing something useful. After a few days, or just a couple days for citrus infusions, start taste-testing once a day to see if the infusions are done. (Pro tip: you may need to taste-test more than one shot to really be sure.) If you’ve added more than one flavor, make sure the flavors are balanced, and add more of a flavor if necessary. Infusion time estimates range from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, but no more. In general, if you’re using fruit, you’ll notice the fruit start to turn pale after a few days. This means the flavor is probably all in the alcohol now. This also means the fruit’s drunk—on YOUR booze, the bastard!—so if you don’t want to waste a precious drop, or a precious berry, you can make yourself an unpleasant fruit salad with the pasty remains. I do not endorse this idea, however. If I were you, I’d just make a lemon drop instead. (Good thing you bought so many lemons, am I right?!)
Once the flavor is as strong as you’d like, or at least as strong as it’s gonna get, slowly and carefully pour the liquid through a coffee filter into a second spaghetti sauce/kombucha/peanut butter jar. Try a sample cocktail over ice, adding a tiny bit of sugar and/or cold water if it’s too strong, or club soda if you’re fancy like that. Then portion as much of the rest as you’re able to part with into smaller containers, and tie pretty little bows around them for your friends because you’re a true Martha Stewart.
Congratulations! You are now drunk and (arguably) done with Christmas shopping.
This story originally appeared on CultureMap Austin
Leila Kalmbach is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. She writes people’s life-changing true stories at How We Live.