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Choose your own flavor

A do-it-yourself approach to flavor-infused spirits

A do-it-yourself approach to flavor-infused spirits

July 11, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

The wave of commercial success of flavored liquor brands has prompted some people to embark on a new venture: creating custom flavors at home.

The process, maceration, is as easy as soaking fresh fruit in your favorite spirit, restaurateurs say. You also can infuse flavors by heating the ingredients and combining them with the liquor.

It's great for entertaining on a small, intimate scale, said Antoni Yelamos, a Washington, D.C.-area mixologist.

"Think of your grandmother serving you tea," Yelamos said. "This is a very homey, homey beverage. Every culture has an infused drink of some sort."

Whether they're made at home or bought at a liquor store, flavored drinks are in demand.

According to data from Distilled Spirits Council of the United States - a Washington, D.C.-based trade group - flavored vodkas account for 11 percent of all vodkas sold. Flavored rums account for 30 percent of all rum sales.

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Roughly 46 million 9-liter cases of vodka were sold in the United States in 2005. That's more than double that of America's second-favorite spirit, rum, of which roughly 22 million cases were sold that year, according to data from the Distilled Spirits Council.

The flavored-beverage trend can be seen locally. Cocktail menus at nightspots downtown are often crafted around flavored vodkas and rums, and to good effect, business owners say.

Of the 15 martinis on the menu at GG's Restaurant and Martini Bar in downtown Hagerstown, most involve some kind of flavored vodka, said Paul Deputy, co-owner of the establishment. GG's Restaurant and Martini Bar is an off-shoot of The Gourmet Goat on North Potomac Street.

"Our vodka martinis outsell our gin martinis because there are so many flavors of vodka," Deputy said.

Using flavored liquors was a key consideration when crafting the cocktail menus at Duffy's on Potomac and Ava (pronounced AYE-vuh), said Mary Downs, the general manager for both, adding that sales of the flavored spirits are higher on weekends.

The recent interest in flavor-infused drinks might be tied to the resurgence of "cocktail culture" during the past decade - a nod to the '40s, '50s and '60s imbibers who favored mixed drinks.

"I think there may be a movement back to the olden days when your parents would come home from work and make a cocktail," said Todd Thrasher, a Washington-area wine sommelier and mixologist who owns several bars and restaurants.

Making it at home

The growing number of people making custom flavors at home was what prompted many urban restaurants and lounges to start serving drinks with homemade, flavored-infused alcohol, said Yelamos, who is the director for development for ThinkFood Group, which owns several exotic drink-serving restaurants and lounges in the Washington area.

Options seem limitless.

Yelamos spoke of beverages infused by hibiscus petals and herbs, kind of like herbal teas. Thrasher has created a tobacco-infused bourbon he calls "Smoker's Delight."

"It's not like a glass of (cigarette) butts," said Thrasher, insisting that you can't tell it's made from tobacco when drinking it.

Instead, the drink is spicy with notes of vanilla and cherry - from the vanilla- and cherry-flavored tobacco he uses. He also uses honey.

"Smokers love it," he said.

The infusion process is super simple (even for tobacco-bourbon).

According to the experts, all you need to make a flavor-infused drink is:

A glass jar with an air-tight lid

One 80-proof, 750 milliliter bottle of your favorite distilled spirit (vodka is recommended for beginners).

The flavoring ingredient. This could be virtually any kind of fruit, though fruits such as peaches, citrus, berries and pears are the most user-friendly. Herbs such as lavender, rosemary, thyme and mint also work. Some recipes even call for ingredients such as coffee and hot peppers.

The steps also are very simple:

Fill the jar with the ingredients and the liquor, shake and let it stand at room temperature.

Once it tastes the way you'd like, strain using a double-layered cheesecloth, and pour back into the liquor's original bottle. One 80-proof bottle yields 17 drinks.

To speed up the infusion process, you also can heat the ingredients to create a syrup, though this reduces the alcohol content.

The process isn't limited to cocktails.

Jimmy Pumarol, general manager of Cafe Atlantico & Minibar - a ThinkFood Group restaurant in D.C. - likes to serve visitors to his home coffee with chocolate liquer-infused creams he whips up in his kitchen.

"When they drink it, they think it's something so difficult, but it's not," Pumarol said.

Pumarol offers a recipe for a Passion Fruit Maracuja cocktail, which combines orange rum, a ginger and jalapeo infusion, and passion fruit juice.

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