"Maceration" may sound like some crazy combat maneuver, but it's really what happens when a flavor is steeped into a fluid. If you're using the process to add flavor to your vodka, it's given the much cooler moniker of "infusion." Vodka distillers have caught onto the craze, but for the most part they've stuck to common flavors like citrus. But with a decent jar, some produce, and lots of vodka, anyone can create their own signature flavored spirit.
What You'll Need
- Vodka - Vodka is easily the most important (and expensive) part of the process. Although practically any brand will do in a pinch, close attention should be paid to its ingredients and distillation methods. In short, the fewer high quality sources of starch (wheat, potato, or even soy), and the more distillation and filtration, the better. A quick and dirty test: If it smells like rubbing alcohol and burns going down, spend the extra ducats to upgrade. It doesn't matter what kind of flavor you infuse if the base vodka tastes like death.
- Flavor - In terms of flavor, it's an open playing field. Berries, melons, vegetables, and even spices can be infused to add some kick. However, just like gourmet cooking, the fresher the ingredients the more vibrant the flavor. Frozen or jarred fruits and vegetables should be avoided at all costs. At a loss for which flavor to shoot for? Some common choices include: Watermelon, lemon, apple, strawberry, peach, mango, cucumber, chili, mint, ginger, garlic, and lavender. If you want to get really saucy, try mixing a few.
- Infusion Jar - Almost any glass jar will work, if short on time or materials. If you can track down a bona fide infusion jar, even better. They're easy to spot as most have a spigot at the bottom and a secure lid for the top. In a worst case scenario, you can always go to local retailer (Target, Wal-Mart, etc.) and pick up a cheap sun tea jar. Just make sure that whatever you bring home is clear, can hold up to 750ml, and has a tight lid.
Step 1: Prepare the Produce
Since there are a number of choices for flavor, there are tons of ways to prepare your fresh materials. If working with fruit, be sure to expose the flesh. This means slicing into things like melons and strawberries, removing the rinds of fruit like mangoes, and getting rid of any pits. The same type of rules apply for vegetables -- if the section in question doesn't harbor flavor, get rid of it. Once the unnecessary bits have been removed, cut your selection(s) into medium-sized sections. Think "fruit salad," not "puree."
Step 2: Fill the Jar
Once the produce is prepared, it can go into the empty jar. If you've gone the spigot route, make sure the spigot is tightly closed. Traditional methods of infusion call for the jar to be filled (but not packed) with fruit/vegetables. Since that can turn out to be a sizable commitment to a whole lot of alcohol, it's advised to start with modest quantities.
Step 3: Add the Vodka
Once you've added the desired amount of fruit, start dousing it with the desired amount of vodka. The goal is to make sure that your produce is covered (if not submerged) in vodka. Don't mind any floaters -- they're normal. Also keep in mind that the ratio of vodka to produce has a direct effect on flavor, so pour accordingly. When you've poured in the desired amount (or filled the jar), throw on the lid and make sure it's sealed tightly. Place the jar in the refrigerator, or in a cool, dark place. Direct sunlight can wreak all sorts of havoc, so keep it away from the sun at all costs.
Step 4: Wait For It...
This is the hardest part of the process -- waiting. Stronger flavors like citrus can be infused as quickly as couple days, while mellow flavors like water melon and apple can take a week. Really light flavors like cucumber and lavender can take as long as two weeks. Since preference plays a big part in the end result, it's wise to periodically taste the mixture to see where it's at. A day more (or less) won't likely ruin the mixture, and if you splurged on the jar with the spigot pouring the occasional 'test shot' shouldn't be a problem.
Step 5: Strain It
After the desired taste is reached, it's time to rid the vodka of the fruit/vegetable pulp. The easiest method is to line a wire mesh strainer with cheese cloth (coffee filters work too), set it on top of a bowl or pitcher, and then pour the contents of your infusion jar through. Once it has made its way through you can discard the pulp, and enjoy your infused vodka.