November 16, 2021

Infusing Alcohol with Peppers, Lavender, and More

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my time of being a homebrewer, it’s that our DIY interests rarely end at beer. Many folks also make wine, mead, cider and more culinary or health-based fermentables like kombucha or kimchi. I like to make infused liquors. Obviously, I don’t MAKE the liquor - I buy it at the liquor store (makes sense, right?). But I like to have fun affecting and infusing those liquors with different things.

Recently, I made a habanero-infused vodka. This isn’t an infusion for the weak of heart. It’s as hot and intense as it sounds. I don’t drink it straight up, on the rocks, or in shot form. Though I’m sure it would make one heck of an addition to a spicy Bloody Mary, I have only used it for cooking. A half-shot or so in the pan as I’m sauteing onions, making chili, or food processing a batch of hummus. The process is simple enough: steep the spice, fruit, etc. in the liquor. The time you leave it steeping depends on what the ingredient is. Soft and mild flavors, say like those of bananas or peaches, may need to sit in the liquor for days, even weeks.

But for a habanero, with its intense oils and heat, I only do it for a few days. Again, since my main goal is using this for cooking, I’m not concerned about “too hot.” Though if you were going to actually use this for drink-mixing or shots (Holy crap!), you’d want to watch the time and number of peppers. I went a little crazy with the recent batch - three peppers to about 1.5 cups of vodka. I cut the stemmed tops off the peppers, leaving the seeds and ribs intact. Then, I sliced the peppers one time down the center just to increase the surface area and flow of liquor through the pepper. Tossed all three peppers in, put the lid on and shook it up. That’s it. Every day for three days, I gave it a good shake. After three days, the bright orange color had faded slightly from two of the peppers and the vodka took on the lightest tinge of orange. I strained the concoction one time to get the seeds out and transferred it back into the jar. I just barely touched my tongue to the liquid and set my mouth on fire! It’s ready. Stir fry, here we come.

Another infusion I’ve made was a lavender vodka. For that I used about two tablespoons of dried lavender petals in the small jar of vodka. Again, it soaked up that strong floral, perfumey aroma and the vodka turned violet. Very pretty. Very nice with a splash of Sprite and some ice. I should say that usually infusion involve larger quantities of the base alcohol. I was just doing small batches for the heck of it. Got a favorite spice? Got a favorite liquor? Let them hang out for a few days and see what happens! I think the next one on my list is a vanilla bean-infused rum. Mmmmmmm.

Update- I did end up doing a very small shot of the habanero tincture and it was a stupid decision. Immediate burn from tongue to toes. Near-life-threatening hiccups. And a seared throat. Stick to cooking or mixing drinks with this bad boy. I did something sorta/kinda/not really related to this for a homebrew in a past episode of Brewing TV. In it, I made a "tea" steeped with clementines to add to primary fermentation of a Cali Common. It turned out absolutely amazing! Going to try one this summer with mandarin oranges... and then the good ol' Clemifornia Commontine again this winter when they are in season.