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Question about infusing spirits?

Alrighty, so right I did some cooking recently, and I've got some ingredients left over that I got way too much of. One of them is mint, which, as much as I like it, doesn't keep very long, and even if I were to use it in some cocktails or whatever, there's no way I'd come close to using it all. So I figured hey, why not infuse some vodka or something with it, which I've always wanted to try doing anyway. (I might do the same with some excess ginger as well, although you can store that, and I'm planning on brewing my own ginger beer over the summer, so I might just hold on to it)

Now, I know the very basic elements of how this infusion thing goes (you rinse the thing you're infusing, put it in a container along with the spirit, something happens in between, and when you're done, you filter out all the little unpleasant bits, right?)

I guess my question is whether there's a cutoff for how long you can leave the stuff in the spirit. I know it'll take a particular amount of time before the spirit will pick up whatever it is you're infusing, but after that, is there a point after which you have to stop so that...something bad doesn't happen?

I tried searching old threads, but I'm guessing this might be too basic a question, since I couldn't find an answer.

Also, anything else I might need to know would be very helpful. Thanks!

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  1. My experience here is pretty limited, but my understanding is that you can leave something in too long, and undesirable flavors (like bitterness) will start to infuse as well. I remember reading about a cacao nib infusion that had a great chocolate flavor after a couple days but if the nibs were left in too long, got bitter. The best method is probably to taste your infusion daily, and take the flavorings out once you like it. Different ingredients will of course take different amounts of time.

    Also, sometimes the ingredient can mold/spoil if it's poking out above the level of alcohol in your infusion jar, so keep that in mind. It's also often hard to filter an infusion perfectly- you'll usually have some sediment/cloudiness. I strain out the big chunks of ingredient, pass the liquid through a coffee filter or two, and then let it sit for a couple days, see if the sediment settles to the bottom, and then pour off the clear liquid into another bottle (discarding the sediment).

    I made a ginger brandy infusion (with vanilla and orange) a few months ago and people seem to like it (I don't for some reason- might be a lot better with a better brandy). Ginger doesn't seem to have a cutoff point- I never bothered to strain out the ginger once I removed the orange peels and vanilla bean, and the flavor of the infusion hasn't really changed- maybe the brandy sucked all the flavor out of the ginger slices. I'll remove them once the level in the bottle gets low enough that they could spoil. If you're interested, I used another CH member's recipe (kattyeyes)- you can google "ginger hooch" to find it. In my old thread here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/837872, another member said that ginger in vodka wasn't worth trying, so I went straight to brandy. I think ginger beer is probably the best possible use for ginger :)

    I've never tried mint but you should be able to find a lot of specific mint infusion recipes on the web. This site http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2011/12... has a lot of infusion/ DIY imitation liqueur recipes and the author does usually respond to questions/comments.

    There are a few other members who do a lot of infusing, so hopefully they'll chime in with advice.

    1. Unrelated question about infusing, I live in PA and according to the LCB website, the only kind of neutral grain alcohol I can get is 190 proof. I've read that using a higher proof is superior to using 80 proof vodka to pull the flavors out, but no one mentioned THAT high a proof. Should I water it down to 150 or thereabouts, or would it be better to infuse at full strength?

      I'd rather not end up with ridiculously high proof limoncello, but I also want to get the maximum flavor possible. I'm hoping to make Mint, Lemon, Orange, and Coffee flavored liquors right now if that helps at all.

      8 Replies
      1. re: ktamer1

        Use the high proof to infuse, then do the math and use enough water when you add your simple syrup to water it down to a reasonable proof. The higher proof will pull out much more of the flavor.

        I made a pretty tasty coffee liqueur using normal proof rum, but I didn't do an infusion- I read a bunch of different recipes/methods and it sounded like people had better luck just mixing super-concentrated and sweetened coffee with liquor at a 1:1 ratio- and no filtering needed! An infusion (or high proof liquor) would give you a higher abv but with a liqueur I was fine with the 20% abv I ended up with.

        1. re: tinnywatty

          Thanks! I think I'm going to stick with standard proof for the coffee but go 190 for the rest. I think I'll stick to small batches the first time around; I've seen so many different opinions in so many different corners of the net that I'm just going to have to try it and see what I like.

          1. re: ktamer1

            Small batches are definitely a good idea! You can always make more, and it would be fun to compare different recipes. I made a small batch of the coffee and thought I'd use it up really fast- but I almost never use it, and it ended up being a lot more than I expected.

          2. re: tinnywatty

            I did home made coffee liquor once and used everclear. don't do that. It blew the neck off a sloe gin bottle that I had used. Had the stuff all over my pantry.

              1. re: tinnywatty

                oh yeah. We were in bed and heard a loud bang. Husband got up, looked around, didn't see anything. We lived on the edge of a rural town, thought maybe it was a gun, no big deal. Then the next morning, got up, opened the pantry and the neck had blown off.

                1. re: wyogal

                  Why would liqueur explode? It couldn't have been fermenting with that high a proof.

                  1. re: tinnywatty

                    yes, everclear plus the sugar syrup. In a tightly capped bottle.

        2. Mint and other herbs will turn bitter after a relatively short time. In my experience, 5 to 7 days is enough to infuse the vodka without letting the bitterness set in. To check, all one must do is taste. . .

          Ginger will make a nice infusion, but will give the vodka a "heat." I have found it to be a better infusion ingredient in tandem with some fruit. Pineapple, for example, makes a nice companion, as does mango.

          1 Reply
          1. re: MGZ

            Having thought about this thread some more, I was struck with the idea that infusing rum with the ginger might yield pretty cool results. Ordinarily, I prefer amber rum, on the rocks, with a substantial hunk of lime - one of summer's truly great libations. Nevertheless, the notion of a pina colada made with ginger spiked rum really struck my fancy.

          2. A bit of time has passed since I tried following through with this, but I might as well report back.

            The strangest thing happened, since I tried infusing the mint, and after a few days the whole thing went black for some reason. It pretty much took on the characteristics of what you'd get if you took some mint, killed it, and then brought it back as a zombie in booze form. I can't imagine what went wrong, since the mint was a few days old, but was still fresh and minty, and I doubt the vodka I used could have anything to do with that.

            I must have done something wrong, although it would probably take more experimentation to figure out exactly what. And I doubt I'll be doing that experimentation in the near future. I never was much of a scientist, after all. Oh well...

            2 Replies
            1. re: sanjacinto

              I think mint is just too tender. It doesn't keep well to begin with. I don't think you did anything wrong, I think that is the way of it. I'd think an afternoon would be long enough instead of several days. Probably why mint is used to muddle as opposed to infuse.

              1. re: wyogal

                Sorry I didn't get to this post sooner. Fresh mint can only infuse for a short period of time. 20-30 minutes. It works better used to make a mint simple syrup for cocktail use. It went black from the chlorophyll dying and decomposing. You can get better results using dried mint.

                The best method for fresh ingredients, as opposed to dry, is the quick nitrous oxide gas (N2O) method. You use an isi whipped cream siphon. You put the botanical in the siphon, add the spirit, and screw closed. Then insert the N2O charge, swirl gently for 30 seconds, and release pressure and pour out the infusion. For mint you may need to gently muddle the mint in the siphon before adding the spirit, but the crushing of the mint may make the infusion start to discolor with time.

                Here's a link to Dave Arnolds article on N2O quick infusing. http://www.cookingissues.com/2010/08/...