An easy way to elevate your homemade cocktails to a craft level is to infuse your own spirits. Since it is relatively flavorless, a good place to start is vodka. Belvedere's Head of Spirit Creation & Mixology, Claire Smith says, "It's a really fantastic way to add a different dimension to your cocktail."
Infusing your own flavors at home doesn’t require much in the way of effort or equipment, just the seasoning you want to use and a sterile container. In fact, you can infuse directly in the bottle, but for ease, Smith says, "mason jars are great to use and also look very pretty."
You can really up your Sunday Bloody Marys with a garlic infusion (it also makes a great martini.) And according to Smith, garlic has a short infusion time at around 24 hours. "So you would slice the garlic and put it into your vodka, typically take the vodka out of your bottle because you're going to want to filter the garlic out at some point," she says. Roughly a bulb of garlic to one liter of vodka, "and then you'd simply filter that garlic out of the vodka, put it back in the bottle," Smith says coffee filters work great and the result will be delicious and is good for storage in the refrigerator for up to six months.
Obviously, temperature affects infusions. The higher the temperature the shorter the time it takes to absorb the flavor. According to Smith, the general rule is to leave the spirit in a cool dry place while the maceration is taking place.
Once you feel like you have gotten a handle on the process, feel free to experiment with more interesting flavors like horseradish, lemongrass or ginger. "Ginger infused vodka is going to make a fantastic cosmopolitan and it feels more complex and more mixology than what you've actually really done, which is just to infuse your vodka with some ginger," says Smith.
If you really want to take a walk on the wild side, "Butter's great," Smith says. "But it's fatty and the alcohol will strip the fat away from the ingredient and you're left with a sort of fatty drink." But if you freeze it then it solidifies and you can sift through it and throw the fat away.
Using quality vodka is important, according to Smith. "No amount of ingredients is going to cover up a poor spirit, unfortunately," she says. "You want a really fantastic base, and you want something that's going to act as a bit of a foundation." If you go with a cheaper, less well-made spirit, Smith says, "What you'll find is the acidic kind of nature of that spirit will take over your infusion and it will become just a really aggressive lemon flavored vodka, or aggressive vanilla vodka." So stick with the good stuff.