small measures with ashley: herb-infused vodkas


Now that it’s becoming warm again, I enjoy an early evening ritual most days — the alfresco cocktail hour. Whether it’s a glass of rosé paired with a bit of sharp cheddar and green olives or a mocha stout partnered with salty pretzels, I like to pour myself a little something and hang out on my patio, sipping away as twilight falls, looking on as the forest creatures wind down from the day’s activities and the light turns otherworldly.



This time last year, I was pregnant, so alcohol was off-limits. Now that I’ve resumed partaking, I’ve been longing for a cocktail. Inspired by the profusion of both perennial and annual herbs growing full steam in my yard, as well as the Asheville Herb Festival I attended this past weekend, I thought what better way to capture the true flavor of the season than by making infused herbal liquors? And so, today’s Small Measures with Ashley offers 10 suggestions for making herb-infused vodkas. You’ll make use of all-natural and abundant flavoring agents while getting your drink on. Bottoms up! — Ashley

CLICK HERE for the rest of the post and herb-infusion ideas after the jump

We’re moving into the season of not just the alfresco cocktail hour, but also multiple occasions for outdoor entertaining — from barbeques and cookouts to picnics, patio brunches and more. These infusions will inject any soiree with an extra level of festivity. They’ll also make fantastic gifts (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and college graduations are all quickly approaching!).

To create the following infusions, I’ve provided some basic guidelines. Essentially, though, all that’s involved is putting a bit of the best quality vodka you can acquire (I like to use Rain Organics Vodka) into a lidded container, adding a few fresh sprigs of your herb of choice and allowing the mixture to infuse for several days. For each of the herbs listed, I’ve also offered five flavor pairings, if you’d like to infuse the vodka with a little more than one herb (which, of course, will also taste fantastic all on its own). These suggestions come from The Flavor Bible, my indispensable go-to manual when looking for ideas for culinary pairings.

Herbs

  • Cilantro Pair with: ginger, chile peppers, figs, cucumbers, cumin seed
  • Basil Pair with: strawberries, cucumbers, orange peel, peaches, pineapple
  • Lemon Verbena Pair with: apricots, blueberries, cherries, cinnamon stick, red currants
  • Lemon Balm Pair with: fennel bulb, honeydew melon, black tea, nectarines, blackberries
  • Tarragon Pair with: lemon thyme, celery seeds, lemon peel, pink grapefruit, bay leaf
  • Dill Pair with: cucumber, coriander seeds, cilantro, capers, lemon balm
  • Mint Pair with: apples, cardamom seeds, whole cloves, grapes, peaches
  • Rosemary Pair with: pears, lemon peel, orange slices, apricots, plums
  • Thyme Pair with: whole allspice, bay leaf, celery stalks, cranberries, sage
  • Lavender Pair with: peaches, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, lemon peel

To Infuse

1. Clean and dry a glass container with an air-tight lid. I like to infuse in glass mason jars. Depending on how much liquor I want to infuse, and the amount of material I’ll be infusing it with, I use either a quart or 1/2 gallon-sized jar. A quart jar will hold 4 cups of vodka. I suggest using 2 cups of vodka, at least.

2. Place several sprigs of whatever herb you’d like to infuse in the jar, along with additional flavoring agents, if using. Cover with vodka. Secure the lid tightly.

3. The amount of time required for infusing will vary. If infusing an herb by itself, allow up to two days, shaking the jar several times daily. If using additional flavoring agents, allow at least one week. Keep out of direct sunlight and store at room temperature during the infusing process.

4. Strain solids off using either a fine-mesh wire strainer, coffee filter or cheesecloth. Transfer the infusion back to the jar used for processing (after cleaning it out) or into a decorative bottle for gifting.

5. Store the infusion in the refrigerator (and consume within 1 month) or the freezer (consuming within 2 months).

If giving as a gift, you can opt to leave the infusing agents in the vodka and instruct the recipient to strain the solids off after a little time. Otherwise, strain the blend yourself and present the liquor in an attractive glass bottle. I like to use either clamp-lid glass bottles or salvaged, repurposed ones I keep on hand for gift-giving. Also, if you’re not the alcohol-drinking kind but would still enjoy sipping on seasonal herbal delights, check out this post I did last year on making Herbal Sun Teas.

These infusions will be equally delicious whether served neat, with ice or blended into a cocktail. From Bloody Marys and martinis to hard lemonade and cosmopolitans, they’ll add nuance and seasonality to whatever whets your whistle. And, in my opinion, they make alfresco cocktail hour the very best time of day. What about you? Got any go-to liquor infusions you turn to again and again? I’d love to hear about them!

Emily

Wow – this whole post just completely took over my senses, such a wonderful idea! I cannot wait to try it out, thanks for sharing :)

Cilla Poa-Heighway

Wow thanks for your blog, its such a great idea and looks so refreshing. I really like the sound of he mint, lavender and basil. Cant wait to have a go.

Heather

LOVE! I am in the process of making limoncello right now. I think making herb-infused cocktails could replace baking during the summer heat :) Thanks for the post!

Mollie

What a great post! Thanks for including those drool-worthy flavor pairing suggestions. I have an awesome book with a killer Irish creme liqueur infusion recipe: “Classic Liqueurs: The Art of Making & Cooking with Liqueurs” by Cheryl Long and Heather Kibbey. I make it every yuletide season & highly recommend it!

Ben

I tried infusing vodka with mint about a month ago, and within two days the whole thing turned a brackish brown color and smelt of death. Does anyone know what could possibly have gone wrong?

The Disgruntled Architect

This is delicious! I am not even a great fan of vodka, but these have such an aroma of spring and fresh cut herbs that I can totally see wanting to do this. They are also a gorgeous centerpiece…

Angela

I love this! I’ve been putting a lot of mint in my brita water pitcher lately, but this seems like an even better idea! Someone answer Ben before I do the same!

Val

I did this with lemon verbena last year. The color was not appealing but it tastes great. I’m going to try pineapple sage this year.
Ben–was all of the mint submerged?

The Clothed Cook

Wow, how lovely. I’ve always wondered–what is the impact on the cocktail if you use an infused liquor rather than a syrup? Say I have a choice between making basil infused vodka + plain simple syrup or a basil simple syrup with plain vodka–how will the different preparations affect the drink?

mixette

I’m all into muddling herbs into cocktails, but might now have to make the jump to infusions.

Also: Flavor Bible totally needs to make an iPhone app!

Ben

It was all submerged, yes. The only thing I can think of was that I chopped the mint beforehand which might have done…something to it. But my roommate (who has much more experience with cocktails than I) had just done the same with cilantro in gin, and it turned out fine.

Worst case scenario, I just go back to making mint syrup for (yankeefied) juleps…

meagan

Oh wow – this is fab! In Ireland it is pretty popular for folks to make slo gin – infused with all sorts of cool berries and fruit.
thanks for the how to!
meagan

Crow & Quill

That’s so great! I’m growing mint for the first time. I’ll def be trying this out when it’s ready.

Tamaisha

I do this regularly but I often use the resulting infusion for things other than cocktails. I use the lavendar that I have allowed to steep for a month as a linen spray. I think a cucumber/mint or cuke/lime would be good.

As to Ben’s question, leave the herb whole and don’t chop. You should get better results.

Julia*

Oh yes… J’adore! Thanks for this idea! I will to try with dill + Absolut Vodka.

Sana

Cilantro + Ginger… That is going to be first on my list. Love the options and presentation xx

ashley english

ben-my guess is that the chopping, as others have mentioned, coupled with the possibility of perhaps moisture on your mint (the herbs should be dry) might have been the culprit. give it a go again with herbs you smudge with a cloth first and with whole stems.

the clothed cook-i imagine the final outcome would be the same. what if, though, you did both a basil simple syrup AND basil-infused vodka???!!! KA POW, on the flavor end, i’d imagine!

mixette-totally agreed.

girlie-the bottles above are all from my large stash of repurposed bottles i keep squirreled away in my basement. i recycle most glass, but those bottles that have a cool design or shape, i hang onto, for purposes such as this. left to right above are former: amaretto, brandy, vinegar, stirrings cocktail mix, olive oil, and maple syrup bottles.

jada

these look amazing…where did you get the corks from?

Leah

I’ve learned thru experience and research that some fresh herbs cannot stay very long in the infusion – some only tolerate one day before oxidizing and making nasty. But one day in the alcohol and deliciousness happens.

My favorite: basil flower infusion (great use of the late summer fragrant flowers from basil plants) – leave the flowers in the alcohol for about 20hours and then strain

Josh

I’ve been infusing Taza chocolate with rye whiskey for my cocktail events. Big hit.

Heidi (AlpineGypsy)

Ashley, your posts make my mouth WATER everytime!!! These ideas are so attractive on so many levels. And….I think I need that Bible! Thanks,

Heidi

Shannyn

Wow, I cannot wait to try this! Unfortunately, I’m pregnant right now so it will have to wait until later this year.

ashley english

jada-the corks are all upcycled corks from bottles of things i’ve used up. i wash them thoroughly in hot, soapy water and then allow the corks to dry completely before storing away for future gift-giving purposes.

HeatherS

This post instantly transported me to a Summer afternoon. Love the idea and the first photo. Great job!

joann diferdinando

i really like this site. stumbled on it looking up wedding ideas. i love the bottles and labels . where did you get them? i make anisette and limoncello for the holidays and i am always looking for bottles.

Laura.

i work at a cafe where we infuse liquors with tea source’s loose leaf teas and mix them with fresh juices for specialty cocktails. tea infusions are fast and consistent in their flavor, not to mention, delicious! joann, you can get the labels from cyn at riverdogprints.com

sushila

has anyone used flowers to infuse? Im thinking of dill flowers instead of dill leaves.
Also any ideas for a cocktail that will work well with gin infused with jasmine tea? I had one once but didnt note the other ingredients…
Thanks!

Crtj

Elder flowers infuse quite well… Either straight or with some lemon (zest + juice) and sugar.

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