One response to the ongoing flavored whiskey trend is doing it yourself.
“One night while I was drinking with friends, I tasted Fireball and thought, I wonder if I can make this?” says Jeffrey Moll, lead bartender at Randolfi’s Italian Kitchen, one of three restaurants owned by chef Mike Randolph in the St Louis, MO, area.
The result was a house-infusion variation called FireMoll, made with Old Grand-Dad 114 proof bourbon, into which Moll steeps garam masala for seven days. After straining the infusion, he adds rich simple syrup then lets the mixture rest for a day to marry the flavors.
In fact, the only commercial flavored whiskey Moll carries is the unusual Rieger’s Kansas City Whiskey, a blend of corn, malt and rye whiskies as well as 15-year-old oloroso sherry. “It’s rich, with walnuty, raisiny flavors,” he notes.
Whiskey, with its intrinsic flavor profile, is trickier to infuse compared with a neutral spirit like vodka.
“They are not as popular as vodka infusions,” says Dustin Parres, corporate bar manager for Gamlin Restaurant Group, of whiskey infusions. “On a given weekend, we will go through five liters of a vodka infusion, but if I sell a 750-ml. bottle of whiskey infusions a week, that’s doing well.”
But whiskey infusions sell better in the fall and winter months, especially during the holidays, notes Parres. He has experimented with a number of autumnal flavors: salted caramel, dark cherry and vanilla bean and apple cinnamon.
What’s the best way todetermine infusions flavor combinations? “Look at the flavor nuances of each type of whiskey and think about how you would pair them if they were food elements,” says Moll. “Bourbon, for example, is heavy on vanilla; so for me, bourbon and pear makes sense for an infusion.”
A few operators, including Bounce Sporting Club in New York, infuse Jameson Irish whiskey with bananas. Moll also thinks tea infusions work well with whiskey. “Use higher-proof whiskey for faster and more efficient extraction of flavors,” he advises.
One of Parres’ most successful whiskey infusions involved Rebel Yell Whiskey infused with pumpkin. Using it he created the Rebellious Pumpkin cocktail (pictured atop) with a nutmeg and coffee syrup topped with a splash of soda. “It’s tastier than a pumpkin spiced latte.”
Thomas Henry Strenk is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn specializing in all things drinkable.