I get approached by people quite often asking for little tips, tricks, and shortcuts to improve their home bar, and there’s little in the way of bartending “lifehacks” that I really have to offer up. It’s not that there is no simple advice that I can give that will make your drinks taste better. It’s just that I’ve noticed that when I give people little pointers on how to improve their drinks, they tend to fix one problem while creating another.

There are few true shortcuts in the cocktail world. If you want lemon juice, you’re going to have to squeeze a lemon. There’s no way around it. If you want to make better drinks, you’re going to have to read a book, practice, fail, fail, fail, and then finally succeed. The one thing out there that you can easily do to make drinks more interesting though is create your own infusions.

Making infusions is a simple enough process. You put the booze of your choice into a glass container, throw in some herbs, spices, fruit, tea, or nuts and when it tastes the way you want it to, you strain all of the solid matter and imbibe. Oddly though, I see this fairly straightforward procedure get screwed up more often than I would expect, so here’s a few guidelines that should help the budding cocktail enthusiast along the path to drinking more interesting drinks.

  • Always use a glass container for infusions. There are some plastic containers available that work great, but they’re not typically sold outside of specialty restaurant supply houses. Standard sized mason jars are perfect for infusing and you can use them for a lot of other things around the house.
  • Different ingredients require different infusion times. Teas can be infused into liquor in as little as 30 minutes, whereas hard spices and nuts can take 4 days to a week to complete the process. My advice is to do a simple Google search on the infusion that you’re making and use that as a guideline. At the end of the day, it’s best to just periodically taste the infusion and stop the process when you feel that the liquor has taken on enough of the flavor that you were looking for.
  • Don’t infuse more than one ingredient at a time. This is a fairly common mistake that should be avoided. If you feel that it’s necessary to infuse a spirit with more than one ingredient, it’s best to infuse each ingredient separately and then blend them together to your preference.
  • When your infusion had reached the point where you feel you’ve got the flavor that you want, you should strain off the solid particles and stop the process. If you leave the ingredient that you’re infusing in the liquor for too long there’s a good chance that you’ll begin to get some flavors that were not intended.
  • When infusing peppers with liquor, it’s best to start tasting your infusion after about two hours and every thirty minutes after that. In the beginning you’ll notice that the spirit will take on some of the fleshier and green aspects of the pepper, but later on the spiciness will begin to overtake all of the other characteristics.
  • Although I’m always an advocate of being cost effective, most of the time it’s best to use more of the ingredient that you’re infusing the liquor with than less. There’s nothing like the frustration of getting excited about an infusion only to find out three days later that it’s all a waste because you didn’t add enough of the flavoring component.
  • Store infusions at room temperature and away from light. Heat and UV light just have their own very special ways of screwing up booze, and subsequently how much you’ll be able to enjoy your handiwork.

Infusions are the easiest way to add flavors into the drinks that you’re used to making to trick them up a bit and keep things interesting. The moral of this story though is: If you want more out of your drinking life, you’re going to have to work more for it.