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Ring in new year with inspired cocktail creations

Let’s pay homage to what remains of the holiday spirit by crafting some seasonal spirits of our own. I’m going to explore infusing vodka with fruits, vegetables and herbs.

You’ve seen flavored vodkas on liquor store shelves, but have you ever thought of making your own infused vodka? Not only is it very inexpensive, but say goodbye to artificial flavorings and colors and gain absolute control over the ingredients. You can make simple infusions or create signature blends to add superpower to cocktail hour.

It’s surprisingly easy to do. All you need is a large wide-mouth glass jar with an airtight lid (not plastic unless you’re making plastic flavored vodka), a fine mesh strainer, cheese cloth or coffee filters, and a funnel. Save empty vodka bottles to refill with your infused creations later. Of course, you’ll need vodka and ingredients to infuse, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, I’d like to share how to make cheap vodka taste more like top-shelf vodka. There is no sense in paying for top-shelf vodka for our purpose. The secret is filtering vodka with a charcoal-activated water filter, like a Brita or PUR brand filter pitcher. Just designate a new filter exclusively for vodka because you won’t want to use it for water after you use it for vodka.

Activate it, as per manufacturer instructions then drain the water. Proceed by pouring the vodka through the filter just as you would water. You’ll want to run it through several times. I find seven times is the charm. Will this method fool a sophisticated palate into thinking its top shelf? Nope. Will it improve the results when infused or mixed in a cocktail? Absolutely.

I feel it’s appropriate that I write about adult beverages to send off 2020 and welcome in the new year. Had I known what 2020 would be like, I would have led with this. Happy new year!

How to infuse vodka

Into a clean glass jar with a lid, place your infusion ingredients, top off with vodka and close lid. Shaking the jar daily, infuse for 12 hours to seven days. Different ingredients require different amounts of time to infuse, and then there’s adjustment to your personal taste. I have guidelines below but taste your infusion every day until you’re satisfied with your results. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

When you’re happy with the flavor, strain the infusion material out and decant into a clean bottle or jar. Enjoy immediately or store in a cool, dark place for as many as 12 months.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Berry vodka: Use strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries or a combination. Wash berries and roughly chop. Using 1-2 cups berries for every 3-4 cups of vodka. Infuse for three to seven days.

Citrus vodka: Use lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit or a combination. Wash and slice fruit. Fill jar about halfway with fruit and top with vodka. Infuse for three to seven days.

Alternatively, using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest in strips. Reserve fruit for another purpose. Infuse zest for one to two days. You can also add zest to other infusions for complex flavors.

Cranberry lime vodka: Combine 1 cup chopped cranberries with the zest of one lime. Infuse for one to two days. Sweeten to taste.

Herbed vodka: Combine 1-2 large sprigs of basil or another favorite herb (dill, mint, sage, tarragon etc.). Infuse for two to seven days, tasting frequently. Serve with tonic or soda or make into martinis or bloody Marys.

Bloody Mary vodka: In a large container, place 1 sliced tomato, ¼ sliced onion, 2 chopped celery stalks, ½ sliced cucumber, 1 sliced lemon, 1 sprig of fresh herb like basil or dill, 2 garlic cloves. Infuse with 750 milliliters vodka for a minimum of three days. Remove all the vegetables and strain vodka. Refrigerate until ready to use. If you like it spicy, add a sliced jalapeño in the last hour only.

If you choose to infuse some booze to use tonight, lemon zest or hot peppers (jalapeño or serrano) take mere hours to give intense flavor to vodka.

To sweeten your infusions add simple syrup. But please don’t buy it. Make it. It’s called simple syrup for a reason. In a saucepan simmer equal parts sugar and water until the sugar has dissolved.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti @divasonadime.com.

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