Huge thanks to everyone who came out to NightLife at the Academy this evening! For those of you who were not able to make it, or were and want a recap, here's what we covered.
First of all, infusions and liqueurs are a fun and easy way to capture the essence of many ingredients. I taught a few classes on it at 18 Reasons a couple years back. For one springtime class, I nabbed some amazingly fragrant, perfectly ripe strawberries and plonked them into some vodka. A few days later, during the class, I opened the jar, and the room instantly filled with the sweet aroma of strawberries. The students audibly sighed.
Infusion is simply the process of imparting flavor into a solvent, like alcohol, water or acid, by way of steeping ingredients. Liqueurs are basically just infusions that have been sweetened. In the case of the strawberry infusion, no further sweetening ws needed. But in the case of things like limoncello, made from lemon zest, or amaretto, with bitter almonds, sweetening can be desirable.
Tea cocktails are becoming trendy right now, but you don't have to drop a Jackson to enjoy one. You can make your own tea liqueur at home, and use it to make your own clever cocktails. And unlike some other liqueurs, which can take days or even weeks to make, tea liqueur can be made in just a few hours.
To make a tea liqueur, you will need a base liquor, a tea, and a syrup. My formula goes:
For each 1 cup of liquor, use 2 teaspoons of tea and 1/3 cup of syrup.
Thoughts on liquor: For the class, I used vodka. Like the sugar syrup, it has a neutral flavor, and I wanted to highlight just the flavor of the tea. However, feel free to get creative, and think about flavor combinations. Early Grey, for example, goes very nicely in gin; chai in bourbon is another nice combination (pictured, top).
Thoughts on tea: I recommend loose leaf tea for this. The tea in teabags tends to be lower quality, the leftover dust and bits from tea processing. Loose leaf teas are more intact, and have fresher flavor. If you're using black or green tea, be careful not to overextract your infusion. Liquor is 40% alcohol and 60% water, and both are excellent solvents. The tannins in tea dissolve quite quickly, and if you let it go too long, your infusion will be bitter and unpalatable. Herbal teas are far more forgiving.
Thoughts on syrup: This is a 1:1 mix of sugar, honey or other sweetener with water. A sugar syrup has the most neutral flavor, so if you want to highlight your tea flavor, go with that. Honey, of course, goes very nicely with tea, so that's my sweetener of choice here. Agave might be a nice choice if you were using tequila as your base liquor. Simply mix equal parts of hot water and sugar or honey, and stir until completely combined. Allow to cool to room temperature.
In a glass jar or other nonreactive container, combine your liquor and tea. Cover, and shake to distribute evenly. Allow to steep for a few hours. Feel free to taste as you go, and stop the infusion when you reach the desired strength.
Strain the infusion through a coffee filter. Combine the strained infusion with the syrup. Again, taste and adjust sweetness accordingly.
The liqueur will be ready to drink immediately, but the flavors will mellow and blend best after a few days. Store in the refrigerator if you're keeping it for more than a few days; the flavor may fade otherwise.