Infused spirits in under 5 minutes

The blogs have been abuzz over the past week with an innovative approach to alcohol infusions suggested by the good people behind the Cooking Issues blog. At its most basic, it involves placing the spirits and aromatics to be infused in a whipped cream siphon, like the iSi Gourmet Whip,  charging it, and waiting for 1 minute.

Ideas started flying fast and furious: Linda at Playing with Fire and Water, in her inimitable way, started exploring infusions with some of the more uncommonly culinary plants in her garden, including phlox and tomato leaves. Andrew put up a post at Kaiser Penguin describing how to make a quick ’n’ dirty falernum. (No more excuses not to make a Zombie or Royal Bermuda Yacht Club!) And Alex and Aki of Ideas in Food took the technique in a whole new direction, infusing mozzarella with basil aroma.

There are a couple of benefits to this approach to infusion. First, and most obviously, it’s incredibly fast. Second, it can be used with relatively small amounts of alcohol, as low as 4 oz. In my explorations of cocktails, I often come across recipes that sound delicious, but call for you to infuse as much as a litre of spirits for periods of up to several weeks. Now I can quickly mix these sorts of cocktails on the same day I read about them, and in quantities that are more suited to the home than a professional bar. What’s more, because it’s so fast and cheap, it allows you to easily experiment with different flavours at different concentrations until you find one you like.

Where did I go with it? My first impulse was to infuse smoky lapsang souchong tea into rum. I put 6 grams of tea leaves and 120 ml. of Saint-James rhum agricole into my Thermo Whip, charged it, swirled it for 30 seconds and let it stand for 30 more, then opened it and strained. The result was a beautiful, smoky-tea rum with no hint of bitterness.

In retrospect, this probably wasn’t the best application of the technique, since tea infusions are relatively quick to begin with, but I was pleased with how well it worked. And new ideas now keep popping into my head: if tea works, what about coffee? How about infusing caraway and other aromatics into vodka to make a version of aquavit? Could you produce a reasonable facsimile of gin, which has met with limited success using traditional infusion? This is a technique that merits lots of exploration.

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