Guide to Making Flavored Vodka

Think bacon's just for breakfast? Think again. This companion to your morning eggs is just one of an infinite number of flavors that are showing up on cocktail menus and in home bartender recipes. Why limit yourself to the flavors the vodka makers think you should have? Start with their vodka as a base and get creative. Making your own flavored vodkas is easy and inexpensive, and if you're willing to go a few steps further, you can turn that flavored vodka into a cordial that will satisfy any sweet tooth.

Getting Started
Making flavored vodkas isn't difficult and doesn't require expensive equipment or special tools. All you really need to make your own flavored vodka is:

  • Your favorite plain vodka
  • Your chosen ingredients (citrus, berry, other fruit or savory products)
  • One gallon-sized bottle or jar for steeping plus another for straining
  • A mesh strainer and cheesecloth
  • Your imagination

Although you'll see infusion jars at specialty shops, you'll pay a premium for what amounts to little more than the name. Unless you need the convenience of an infusion jar that has a pouring spout, look for the jars you need at craft retailers or the kitchen and dining section in discount stores. These will cost you less and, as long as the jar has an airtight seal, your flavored vodka won't suffer.

Gallon-sized bottles or jars are the best size to use when you first start making flavored vodkas. They can hold a standard 1.75 liter bottle of vodka along with the ingredients you'll be using to flavor the vodka. Just be sure the mouth of the bottle or jar is large enough to accommodate the ingredients you plan to use.

Choosing your Flavors
There's seemingly no end to the foods, herbs and spices you can use to flavor your vodka. When you first start making flavored vodka however, you may want to stick with flavors you know and have tried in other vodkas.

If you choose citrus fruits, especially oranges or lemons, make sure you select thin-skinned fruits and that the oranges are for juicing, as opposed to navel oranges. For lemons, choose Meyer lemons if you can find them; they're a bit larger than other lemons and have a hint of sweetness that will reduce the potential for turning out a bitter-flavored vodka.

The key thing to remember about making flavored vodkas with citrus fruits is to start testing your flavored vodka within the first two days; citrus flavors infuse more quickly than berries, which can steep for up to two weeks.

Name a berry. As long as it's edible, you can use it to flavor vodka. Beyond berries, there are dozens and dozens of flavors and flavor combinations you can use when you're making vodka: apples, bacon, chili peppers, crushed coffee beans, cucumber, mint, vanilla bean-you name it.

The proportion of ingredients to vodka will vary according to the kind of ingredient(s) you choose (fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, etc.), the flavor of the ingredient(s) and the intensity you want to achieve with your flavored vodka. Between a good bookstore and solid Internet search skills, you'll find hundreds of recipes to further you along.

Shake, Stir and Steep
The first step in making flavored vodka couldn't be easier: If you're starting with fruit or berry flavored vodka, fill your jar with either whole berries or chopped fruit, then add the vodka. Seal the jar, give it a shake and leave it in a dark closet for 24 to 48 hours for citrus and some other fruits, up to two weeks for berries.

How do you know when your flavored vodka is ready? You taste it. Taste testing is the only way to know if your mixture has reached its maximum flavor. Keep a tasting glass handy and don't be afraid to check your recipe daily-some say it's more than half the fun of making flavored vodka.

What to Do When the Flavored Vodka is Ready
Once you've achieved the potency you desired for your flavored vodka, you'll need to strain out the ingredients you used to flavor it. Do this by pouring the mixture through a wire-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth (here's where having that second jar comes in handy). If you're prone to spills, strain the mixture into a large pot or bowl instead.

If you've saved the original vodka bottle and cork-the environment will thank you-you can reuse them for your flavored vodka. Soak the bottle in warm water to remove the original label, if it has one. You can leave the bottle plain or create your own personalized label and brand your flavored vodka. If you think that making flavored vodkas will solve your gift-giving dilemmas for years to come, for an initial investment of about $60 you can buy a case of bottles, corks and a bottle corker to make packaging easier.

Flavored Vodkas Your Sweet Tooth
If you'd like to take your flavored vodka adventure one step further, try making sweet, liquor-based cordials. Almost any fruit will work here, but berries seem to turn out the best flavored vodkas and are a good basis for your first cordial.

Begin the same way as if you were making any berry-flavored vodka. Steep the berries in the vodka for about six weeks, gently shaking the mixture every couple of days to help break down the fruit. When it's fully steeped, strain the mixture into another jar or vessel of your choosing.

Prepare a simple syrup mixing by 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water together over low heat for about 30 minutes or until the sugar is fully dissolved, taking care not to boil the sugar and water. Make sure the syrup has cooled to room temperature before mixing with your flavored vodka.

The sugar syrup thickens the vodka, creating more of a liqueur consistency. It also makes the flavored vodka super sweet, so add it gradually and keep tasting until you get the combination of flavored vodka and sweetness you're looking for. You can always make and add more syrup to your flavored vodka if you need to. Bottle this the same way you bottle your flavored vodkas.

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