It’s not difficult to infuse a spirit. Simply pick your poison—vodka, whiskey, tequila, rum—fill up a bottle or a jug with it, and add some stuff. There are no rules.
Some infused spirits have become a staple that we hardly even recognize them as such, for example, gin (a neutral spirit infused with juniper) and amaro (a neutral spirit or wine infused with herbs). The practice extends across cultures. In China, many restaurants will have jugs full of infused spirits, such as goji berries. And throughout the Caribbean, one finds bars loaded with bottles of rum infused with various sorts of local plants, fruits, and herbs, such as cinnamon or peanuts.
Traditionally, infusions were concocted for medical purposes, the alcohol a simple means to extract whatever healing properties a plant was thought to possess as well as a means to preserve it. Today, in mixological circles at least, infusion is done mostly for reasons of flavor and effect.
And as drinkers’ tastes and preferences expand, there are more producers offering infused varieties of their spirits, some quite experimental (think bacon-infused bourbon). Here is a collection of some of the more impressive and tasteful infusions on the market today.
One of the more surprising but intensely pleasurable infusions comes out of a small maker, Santa Fe Spirits, with its Atapiño liqueur. Roasted piñon nuts, sourced locally, are soaked in single malt white whiskey for six months, then the piney, vanilla-tasting resin of local ponderosa trees is added. Result? The essence of the alpine Southwest in a bottle.
At Virgil Kaine, in Charleston, S.C., there is a ginger-infused bourbon that is a must-try, using locally grown ginger.
For martinis and Bloody Marys, there is Green Chile Vodka by St. George Spirits, infused with a blend of serranos, jalapeños, habaneros, and red and yellow bell peppers, with some cilantro and lime.
For something a bit easier on the tongue, check out the artisanal Cathead Distillery in Mississippi, which produces a honeysuckle-infused vodka and an equally superb pecan variety.
Though technically already an infused spirit, adding flavors to gin is becoming a trend. Sloe gin, an age-old British creation, involves infusing gin with sloe berries, a wild berry similar in appearance to cranberries. Claiming to be the only genuine producer of the ruby-colored spirit in the U.S. is Spirit Works, a distillery in Sonoma County, Calif.
Luxardo, an Italian liqueur producer, makes a similar concoction using juice from Italian marasca cherries.
With its naturally sweeter body, rum makes for particularly tasty infusions. Plantation, an award-winning distillery out of the rum capital of Barbados, makes Stiggins’ Fancy, a blend infused with hand-cut pineapple.
A bit farther afield is Koloa Rum Co. in Kauai, which offers both a coconut- and coffee-infused rum. For both holiday and tiki cocktails, try the Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced Rum, an intriguingly scrumptious infusion of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, ginger, vanilla, chicory, and cayenne, from Celebration, America’s oldest operating craft-rum distillery.