8 Tips You Need When Making Whiskey Infusions

If you ask us, whiskey tastes great in all its natural, unaltered state. As delicious as it is on its own, whiskey can also serve as an incredible canvas for adding other flavors — and we don't mean by mixing it up in a cocktail. We're talking about infusions, which allow you to add the flavors of your favorite fruits, herbs, spices, and ingredients directly to whiskey by allowing them to steep.

If you're wondering how to make infused vodka, gin, and more, the general idea is that all you need to do is add ingredients to your base liquor and allow it to sit for a few days or even weeks. Then, you simply strain to separate the added ingredients from the liquid and enjoy. We've made our share of infusions with everything from herbs to bacon fat, so we know a thing or two about how to nail the process and create the whiskey infusion of your dreams.

1. Don't use your most expensive bottle

There are plenty of instances in which it's appropriate to break out the most expensive bottle of whiskey on your bar cart — but making an infused whiskey simply isn't one of them. Top-shelf bottles (usually) demand top-shelf prices because of the unique, subtle, and nuanced flavors they contain. Infusing a top-shelf bottle would essentially cover up the flavor you're paying for, so save the good stuff for when you want to enjoy it in its original glory.

Although infusing whiskey does mean adding powerful, noticeable flavors to the mix, it doesn't mean you should use the absolute cheapest bottle you can find, either. No matter how strong of a flavor you add or how long your concoction infuses, at the end of the day it's still going to taste like whiskey, so steer clear of anything you wouldn't want to drink on its own. We recommend a moderately priced bottle that you'd be proud to use in a cocktail or serve to a guest. Selecting a brand you like is especially important if you only plan to infuse a portion of the bottle.

Unless you feel confident in your flavor-pairing abilities, we also recommend opting for a relatively run-of-the-mill bottle of whiskey. If you use a bottle that already has really stand-out flavor notes, they might clash with the other flavors you plan to add. 

2. Don't buy expensive kits or equipment

These days, there's a gadget for absolutely everything. A quick internet search for "whiskey infusing kit" will yield a plethora of results, but we're here to tell you to save your hard-earned money. Despite what you might read in the product description of these tools and kits, you don't actually need them to make a delicious whiskey infusion. Odds are you already have all the tools you need, and you'll be better off buying the ingredients at your local grocery store than using the pre-packed ingredients most kits contain.

As far as a vesicle for your infusion goes, you can either use a mason jar or the original whiskey bottle itself (you might need to enjoy a dram or two to make room to add ingredients). Once your infusion is ready, all you need to do is strain it and put it back into your container. So, as long as you have a strainer and a funnel at home, you're good to go! That being said, we will admit that these kits can serve as fun (albeit unnecessary) gifts for whiskey lovers.

3. Don't rush the process

If you're wondering how long it takes to infuse whiskey, the answer is that there's no exact answer. It all depends on the ingredients you use, and how pronounced you want the flavor. However, there is one rule that you can almost always apply to the infusion process: don't rush it.

Some infusions can be made in as little as a couple of days, while others can take weeks. A lot of this boils down to personal preference, but the bottom line is if you're having a cocktail party at which you'd like to serve an infused whiskey, don't wait until the morning of the event to make your infusion.

The longer you let the ingredients steep in the whiskey, the stronger your infusion is going to taste, so think about what your goals are as you allocate time. Unfortunately, there's no way to speed up the process, so having patience is key. As tempting as it may be to start drinking your creation before it's ready, just know that the final product will be well worth the wait.

4. Don't go overboard with ingredients

Infusing whiskey is all about adding flavor, but you run the risk of too much of a good thing if you add too many ingredients. With the nearly endless infusion possibilities at your fingertips, it's easy to get carried away, but we recommend proceeding with caution. While a peanut butter-bacon-maple-banana-infused whiskey might sound fun and tasty in theory, it's probably going to taste like a jumbled mess.

You're much better off sticking to one or two flavors for each infusion, especially if you're just getting started. You should conceptualize the process like you would if you were making a cocktail and think about flavors that work well together. For example, coffee and whiskey play well together, and so do cinnamon and whiskey. 

Some ingredients steep faster than others, so the more you add to your whiskey, the higher the chances that it's not going to turn out how you expect. Plus, it's a lot more difficult to use an infusion with a ton of flavors in a balanced cocktail than it is to use an infusion that features more cohesive flavors. Remember, simple is often best!

5. Use high-quality ingredients

This tip can be applied to pretty much any culinary or beverage-making endeavor, but it's important to keep it in mind when you're making infusions. If you're using produce, you should look for fresh options that are preferably in season. If you have a farmers market in your town or city, it's an excellent place to find high-quality produce.

If you're using a fruit that continues to ripen after it's been picked like a pear, be sure to wait until it's as ripe as you'd like it before adding it to your whiskey. A fruit mistake you may be making when infusing bourbon is over-extracting it, which will result in bitterness. This means if you're using fragile fruit like berries, you should try to leave them as intact as possible. If you're using spices, quality also matters (spices can expire, after all!). It's often worth shelling out a little extra cash for better spices.

6. Shake or stir periodically

Part of the beauty of making infused whiskey is that it's a very easy, low-maintenance project — but you do need to give your creation a gentle shake from time to time as it steeps. You want to ensure that the flavors of your ingredients are equally distributed in your whiskey, and since most ingredients sink to the bottom of the jar or bottle, you'll need to move things around.

Don't let this stress you out. It's an inexact science and as long as you remember to shake or swirl your batch once a day or so, it will turn out fine. The key is to be gentle, especially if you're using fruit or berries, which are delicate. If you plan to let your infusion sit for a week and you miss a day, don't panic. Just give it a shake as soon as you remember. You can also stir your infusions, but we think a shake works just as well and is quicker and easier.

7. Taste test your creations

As we said, infusing whiskey (at least for at-home bartenders), is a bit of an inexact science — and the best way to ensure your infusion comes out perfectly is to taste it as it infuses. Hey, it's a rough job, but someone has to do it.

This tip rings particularly true if it's your first time making a particular infusion. For example, if it's your first time making an apple and cinnamon-infused whiskey, you should taste it every day. If it's your tenth time making a bacon-infused whiskey, you might be able to taste it just once.

Everyone's taste buds are different, so follow your instinct and strain out your whiskey once your infusion is up to your standards. If you're on the fence about whether or not an infusion tastes ready, we recommend airing on the side of caution and letting it sit for another day or two. If you're questioning it, you probably want to allow the flavor to get a little stronger.

8. Start with a small amount

Even if you follow all the tips above, if you're experimenting with an out-of-the-box infusion, there's always a chance it's not going to taste as delicious as you had imagined. We don't say that to discourage you, but we do want to advise you to start with a small quantity of whiskey if you're new to the infusion process or are using new ingredients.

It's a shame to waste any type of ingredients, but it's even worse when it's something relatively expensive like whiskey (even moderately priced bottles will still cost you a decent chunk of change). After you test your recipe with a small amount of whiskey, you can always make another, larger batch. We recommend starting with around two cups of whiskey, but you can adjust as you see fit.

Since infused whiskey has a much stronger, less versatile flavor than regular whiskey, having less might work in your favor, anyway. While you might enjoy a cocktail made with pear-infused whiskey every once in a while, if your go-to is a classic, frothy whiskey sour, you don't need a whole bottle of the flavored stuff sitting in your liquor cabinet.