Infusing Vodka and Other Spirits With Spice

By on December 15, 2015

When you want to bring heat to your cocktails, chili peppers are great for infusing vodka and other spirits with spice. Making your own infused vodka, gin or rum is an easy way to personalize your liquor cabinet, and the options available to you are as varied as your imagination. While using ingredients like fruit and herbs to make infused vodka is a great place to start, we love adding heat by combining a variety of peppers to make chili-infused liquor with everything from bourbon to tequila. With the number of chili peppers available in grocery stores today, it’s easy to dial in the perfect mix of flavor and heat to meet your mixology needs, and in this Fired Up Food article we share five ways to get started mixing up your own fiery flavors.

Before you get started with your own batch, it’s a good idea to understand the different flavors each chili pepper brings to the mix. Because everyone’s preference for spice and flavor is different, we recommend using our guides as a starting point, and customizing them to your palate.

Jalapeno: Probably the most familiar spicy pepper to Americans, the jalepeno can be found in both green and red varieties, and if dried and smoked is called a chipotle pepper. With a milder taste than many other peppers, the jalapeno makes a great starting point for infusions, and smoky chipotles add a flavor all their own.

Habanero: A little pepper that packs a punch, the habanero brings quite a lot of heat to any recipe. We recommend using these peppers judiciously, and dialing the quantity up gradually.

Thai: A tiny, thin pepper with big flavor, the thai chili pepper can be found in both green and red colors that add their unique flavor to thai cuisine. Thai peppers make a great addition for any infusion that needs a quick, intense heat.

Cayenne: Long, thin and red, the cayenne pepper brings a bright, strong heat. Usually found dried and powdered, many grocery stores will also stock this pepper in fresh form, but the powdered version also works great for infusions.

When it comes to selecting a liquor for your infusion, there are many options, but we’ve found that it’s best to stick to the basics. Just remember, avoid the bottom shelf bottles; no infusion is going to make rotgut taste great. Vodka offers a clean taste, perfect for layering additional flavors; gin, bourbon and tequila bring their unique characteristics, making them great for pairing with specific chili peppers and additions; and rum brings a sweetness that marries well with a variety of heat levels.  While you can always experiment with more exotic combinations, we use those five spirits as starting points.

For each of these recipes, slice peppers lengthwise in order to prevent trapped air from floating them to the top of your mix. You can also remove the seeds and veins if you want to lower the heat level. We recommend wearing rubber gloves or at least thoroughly washing your hands after handling any chili peppers. After preparing your ingredients, combine them all in a large, food safe mason jar, and stick it in the back of your fridge. We recommend letting these infusions soak for at least two weeks, and up to a month. Be sure to shake up the jar every few days to mix up all the ingredients and extract all the flavor you can. Once your infusion is done setting up, we recommend straining the mixture through a cheesecloth, rebottling and keeping refrigerated.

 

Spicy Lemon Cucumber Gin
 
Ingredients
  • 1 750 ml. bottle of Gin
  • 1 cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 3 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 1 ginger root, thinly sliced
  • 3 cayenne chili peppers, halved lengthwise
  • 2 jalapeno chili peppers, halved lengthwise

Sweet & Spicy Pineapple Rum
 
Ingredients
  • 1 750 ml. bottle of rum
  • 1 pineapple, cut into chunks
  • 3 jalapeno chili peppers, halved lengthwise
  • 2 Thai chili peppers, halved lengthwise
  • 2 limes, thinly sliced

Red Hot Maple Bacon Bourbon
 
Ingredients
  • 1 750 ml. bottle of bourbon
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 3 cayenne chili peppers, halved lengthwise
  • 3 Chipotle chili peppers, halved lengthwise
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • 5 strips of bacon, pan fried and drained.

Sweet Chili Tequila
 
Ingredients
  • 1 750 ml. bottle of tequila
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 cayenne chili peppers, halved lengthwise
  • 1 habanero chili pepper, halved lengthwise
  • 2 jalapeno chili peppers, halved lengthwise
  • 2 limes, thinly sliced

Spicy Grapefruit Vodka
 
Ingredients
  • 1 750 ml. bottle of vodka
  • 2 grapefruits, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 2 limes, thinly sliced
  • 3 jalapeno chili peppers, halved lengthwise
  • 3 Thai chili peppers, halved lengthwise

 

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