Flavored spirits have been booming for years, but bartenders are now taking the idea to new places with their own house-made spirits infusions. Mixologists are often crafting flavor offerings unique to their venues, making cocktails with distinct ingredients that encourage consumer experimentation.
“There’s something special about saying ‘house-made’ because it means you can’t get it anywhere else,” says Tony Gonzales, lead bartender at District in Los Angeles. “It creates a desire to try it before it runs out or the menu changes.” A contemporary, farm-focused restaurant and bar, District offers four or five unique spirits infusions at any given time, highlighted in the Strong Medicine section of its cocktail menu. Recent flavors have included rose petal-infused Bombay Sapphire East gin, toasted cacao nib-infused Nonino Quintessentia amaro, wildflower honey- and ginger-infused Monkey Shoulder blended malt Scotch, and mushroom-infused Laird’s applejack.
District bartenders prepare the infusions ahead of time and portion them into vials, which are then presented alongside the rest of the drink to customers, allowing them to pour the infusion into the drink on their own. One selection is the Morphine ($14), made with Laird’s applejack infused with oyster, porcini, and morel mushrooms, then mixed with Punt e Mes vermouth, Cynar amaro, and Fee Brothers Walnut bitters. Another is the Nicotine ($15), blending cacao nib-infused Nonino Quintessentia amaro with Bacardi Superior White rum, Xicaru Silver mezcal, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, Strykover Premium slivovitz, and espresso, served in a smoked glass.
“People ask about our infusions all the time,” Gonzales says. “When someone orders one, we deliver the vial on a plank board with the prepped glass. We explain the contents and the infusion process. Our infused cocktails are by far our biggest sellers.”
Home Base Bistro in New York City takes a similar approach. The venue, which opened this past spring, offers seven specialty infusions, including banana-infused Jameson Irish whiskey, peanut-infused Bulleit Bourbon, and orange- and vanilla-infused Maker’s Mark Bourbon. The spirits creations can be ordered straight, over ice, or as a base in cocktails ($15) like the PB&J, which mixes the peanut Bulleit Bourbon with Chambord liqueur, and the Spicy Margarita, which blends Casa Noble Crystal Tequila infused in-house with jalapeño, cilantro, and lime with Bols Triple Sec liqueur, sour mix, and lime juice.
“Making our own infusions allows us to be creative and have fun with cocktails,” says Nicole Andreoli, director of hospitality and a partner at Home Base Bistro. “We use all-natural ingredients to add flavor and sweetness. We have regulars who love the infusions and are excited to see the new offerings each season.”
In Burlingame, California, Rasa Contemporary Indian restaurant owner Ajay Walia uses ingredients from his food menu to make unique spirits infusions. Rasa’s bar offers a ghee-infused Bulleit Bourbon in its eponymous Rasa cocktail ($18), which also mixes Alessio Bianco vermouth, Cynar, The Bitter Truth Chocolate bitters, house-made orgeat syrup, and mint. Rasa also serves the Maharani cocktail ($16), made with butterfly pea flower tea-infused City Bright gin, Alessio Bianco vermouth, lime juice, and tonic. “We focus on flavors that pair with our food,” Walia says. “Making our infusions allows us to create flavors that are exclusive to us and showcase our creativity.”
Even familiar flavors can get a boost in house-made infusions. Irvington, Virginia-based Tides Inn has a private barrel of John J. Bowman Virginia Straight Bourbon from the nearby A. Smith Bowman Distillery. The bar puts fresh mint grown on its grounds into individual bottles of the whiskey to create a flavored spirit, and uses it in cocktails like the Smoky Orange Mint Julep and the Ginger Mint Julep, which includes Gosling’s ginger beer (each drink is $13).
“The mint brightens and pairs nicely with the whiskey’s sweeter notes,” says executive chef Alex Pasco. “Using our private-label whiskey and house-made infusion allows us to control and balance the flavors in our cocktails, providing guests with a tailored beverage experience.”