Here are some basic guidelines that we suggest when starting to experiment with white alcohol infusions. White alcohol can be vodka, white rum and maybe even tequila, if you’re feeling very bold. Ideally, it is very light in flavor or the flavor of the alcohol complements your chosen fruits and botanicals.
In all cases, you can leave your infusions in the bottle for many, many months. The biggest reason to remove them is aesthetic: if you don’t want to see white, weird looking fruit in your bottles, go ahead and pour out the good stuff. The fruit that is left behind is massively alcoholic. If you freeze that leftover fruit, it is good to blend into frozen daiquiris and martinis (or fruit smoothies). Throwing it away is wasteful.
We recommend that you place a small label (even just masking tape) on your infused bottles that reminds you when you started the process. If you remove the fruit for appearance’s sake, you should also make note of what was inside originally.
Here are some guidelines for African fruit and vodka infusions:
You can add 15-20% of bananas if you like them. But they turn ugly and we find the flavor a little cloying.
Add basil leaves and let them settle until it looks like they fill 30-35% of your bottle. They give their flavor quickly and start to look sad (2-3 weeks). This can be a good one to filter.
You can adjust these to strength. We like to make a very strong infusion with cheap, local cinnamon—adding a cup or so of bark. But you can do with much less. Give it a month to stew.
Grapefruit, lemon, lime, and orange peels can add a lovely flavor to your alcohols, although they won’t mask the quality of the alcohol like something juicy. Wash these fruit very thoroughly, as they are often sprayed. Then peel them delicately. You don’t want the white stuff (pith). You just want a very thin layer of the colorful outer layer—roughly the thickness of the circular little beads you’ll see once you start cutting. The pith is bitter and will foul the taste. These can infuse for a long time. Give them a month before you drink and leave them as long as you like. When they have no color, they’re done working.
Remove the dried coconut flesh from an older coconut (The small, hard brown ones) and fill at least 20-25% of your bottle’s volume. This is much better with rum than vodka and it takes a while: 5-6 weeks before the flavor is strong. Leave them in as long as you like, since they look great.
Peel your garlic cloves and pop them in whole. 15% of the bottle’s volume will give you a very strong garlicky taste. This is best for tomato based cocktails, but is also fantastic to cook with.
Hibiscus flowers (white or red) can be put in the bottom 20-25% of your bottle. The color (with red bissap) will change very quickly, but the flavor isn’t mature for at least 2-3 weeks.
The best hot pepper vodka is brutally strong and uses the hottest little chilies you can find. About 15-20% of your bottle’s volume should be more than enough. If you want it to be a gentle flavor, remove the peppers after a week or two. If you let them sit until they’re colorless, your mixture will be powerful and should be drunk with caution.
Mango (and Papaya):
Mango and Papaya don’t infuse very well. Even if you fill half the bottle with these fruits, their flavor will come across weakly. So if you want to use mango or papaya in an infusion, start with higher quality alcohol and leave it for at least a month. (Better to use their fresh juices.)
Add mint leaves until they fill about 20% of your bottle. They are stronger than basil and give their flavor quickly. They also start to look a little bit sad after a month roles around.
Cut the fruit open and gather the seeds and the juice. Fill about 20% of your bottle with these. Allow at least three weeks for infusing. Passionfruit infusions can begin to look a little brown and particulate after several months. They remain quite tasty.
Fill at least 25% of your bottle with sliced pineapple. Leave it at least three weeks before drinking. It’s best after 5 weeks and doesn’t change much after that.
Fill about 20% of your bottle with starfruit. They’re tough little guys, so give them 4-6 weeks to get all the mouth-puckering goodness they have to offer. After that, the mix won’t change much.
Fill about 20% of your bottle. It’s done when the strawberries turn white; but you can drink it earlier. (Usually a month or so).