Mar 26, 201410:39 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

Confusion About Infusion

Infusing spirits is easy. Here's six tips on how to do it.

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New Orleanians think nothing about mixing together disparate products when it comes to baking or even cocktail making. We don’t have any issues with sugar and lemon, hot with cold, bacon with chocolate, sweet with grapefruit, sweet meats with savory sauces, jalapenos with cucumbers, and the myriad other combinations we gladly intake every day.

There is likely in our DNA an adventuresome spirit developed over the years from so many cultures mashing together in this small, damp, at times hostile place. We have found that you don’t know if you like it until you try it, and you can try almost anything. How else to explain hogshead cheese and fried alligator tail?

Even cocktails, which we helped develop for the world, use as a key component the bitters concocted by every pharmacist and mixologist as individual signature ingredients. Our experimentation was often community-wide, as in red beans, po-boys and fried chicken. But also our desire for individuality was driven by the cuisines of our mothers and grandmothers who eventually built a repertoire of dishes beloved by their families. Red gravies, jambalaya and gumbo are in this category. Does any one family make their dishes the same as their neighbor? In case you don’t know or are reading this in a place other than South Louisiana, the answer is “Nope.”

Which brings us, namely because this is a beverage column, to infused spirits. I’m wondering about our hesitation to infuse spirits with our own individual preferences. Are we simply not interested in developing our own liqueurs and spirits, or are the products that are on the shelves now perfectly okay with us? Maybe we don’t like what is out there and just avoid the entire category.

Still, it is like us to make something that is to our tastes. From hot sauce to ketchup to mayonnaise to mustard, we make those sauces and condiments to our palate, yet we don’t take some of the best natural and seasonal ingredients and infuse them into a spirit? That’s not our style at all. Yes, I mean you, the guy with the two cases of homemade beer in the hall closet.

The really great point about creating your own infusion is that you can experiment and wander about with flavors you like. Usually vodka is a good base spirit in that it is neutral but port, Madera, cognac, rums or even mescal may be more to your liking and all are capable of creating an interesting outcome.

Then there’s the question of what to put into the liquid. Well, what do you like? Are you a fan of pineapple, cherries, peaches, grapefruit or apples? Maybe you prefer spices like ginger, cinnamon, basil, habanero or tabasco peppers. It does not really matter as long as you like it, because infusion exacerbates those flavors and characters with which you are in love.

Then, of course, you can combine spices and fruits in the same infusion. Go with what you know and what you like.

As far as your base spirit goes, begin with a neutral spirit that can get you where you want to go in the shortest possible time. The more alcohol that is present in the base, the faster the process. One of our local distilleries, Atelier Vie, makes Buck Twenty Five. At 125 proof, this vodka is ideal for creating infusions that are thorough and come about quickly.

That’s the other good thing about infusions: They are pretty tough to screw up. All along the way, like twice a day, you can taste what is happening. When you get to the point at which you are happy, simply remove the added ingredients and now you have what you set out to create. Plus, since you are controlling the intensity level, you can determine if what you have will make a good mixer, or that you have a drink able to stand up on its own.

Sometimes the process can take two weeks. That’s okay. The slow nature of what takes place in the sealed glass container gives you plenty of moments to sample and await the rewarding outcome.

A few tips:

• Choose a good base spirit, but in the beginning not an expensive one. Until you are comfortable with the process, why waste something at the very high end? By the same token, you don’t want to skimp on quality. The spirit is one of the prime keys to a good outcome.

• Use only fresh ingredients. Frozen is not a good way to go. If the product is not on the shelf in fresh form, wait until it is available. If the product contains seeds or pits, remove them before they are added to the spirit. They can become bitter over time. Also cut your material into chunks, which provides the spirit access to a sweeter interior and also offers more sides for more contact.

• Use a sparkling clean, washed in hot water, fully sealed glass jar. Depending on what raw ingredients you are working with, gasses can build up. Make certain to carefully open the jar, at least in the beginning, once a day.

• Keep the jar in a dark place and shake several times a day. Taste often. Sometimes 3-5 days gets you to where you want to go. Sometimes a few weeks may be the regimen.

• When you have reached your preferred result, remove the spent material. Spoilage can still take place even after all the freshness in your ingredients is gone.

• After the removal of your raw materials, strain the now-infused spirit through a tea strainer or coffee filter into another clean sealed jar. It is not necessary to refrigerate the infused spirit, assuming the spirit is not normally refrigerated, but just stick it in the cooler anyway. Then when you are sitting around with friends and they ask you where that delicious blueberry vodka came from, you can say, “Oh that? It’s an old family recipe.” 
 

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All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

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In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.

 

Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; the Executive Editor and monthly features writer for Gulf Coast Wine + Dine Online; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.

 

Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.

 

Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.

 

They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.

 

Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.

 

Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

 

Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.

 

It’s a good gig. 

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