Celebrity Angels speaks to drinks expert and recipe maker, Tim Hampson, on DIY spirit infusion in an exclusive interview. Try out his fantastic tips for a wonderfully summery beverage.
What first sparked your interest in the method of infusing spirits?
Memories of my mother and her friends making sloe gin, they seemed to talk for hours about where the fruit was picked, usually a secret location. Was the fruit ripe when it was picked and had it been touched by a frost?
The very best creations seemed to be put into a glass jar and left at the back of a cupboard, sometimes for many years. They talked of a mysterious, almost magical world which I yearend to join.
How do home-infused spirits compare to store bought?
Home infusions are the best. Shop bought variants are probably more consistent, often sweeter but you don’t have the fun of making them.
Generally how long should somebody spend infusing their chosen liquor?
Some simple infusions can be created in a matter of moments, vodka and cucumber for instance. As can chilli and tea infusions. Others require more time, such as limoncello—a good rule is never be afraid to taste your creations. When it tastes right it is ready.
What are the common misconceptions regarding alcohol infusion?
You do not have to make large quantities for an infusion. I usually make mine in batches of 250ml. That leaves plenty of spirit in a bottle for drinking as you see fit.
You also don’t have to use lots of granulated sugar. I prefer to use none. Instead, I might add some sugar syrup once I’ve finished with infusing and am reasonably happy with the taste but want to sweeten it a little.
What are the key steps for flavouring spirits at home?
Set out to have fun. The equipment needed is so simple. A storage jar, a filter and a bottle to put your creation in to. Nothing could be simpler.
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Are there any guided experiences you can partake in that show you how to do this? Do you think these will become more popular around the UK?
I’m sure there are courses, but I do not know of them. Buying the book 'The Haynes Flavoured Spirits Manual' will open up a whole new world to people. However, as more and more people want to grow produce in their garden or on an allotment or forage for fruit and herbs I am sure courses will be developed.
While vodka and gin seem like the most obvious choices, are there any other spirits that infuse well?
Any spirit can be used. People living in the US or Italy can buy white spirit (aqua vie) which is much stronger than anything we can buy from a normal off licence. This makes infusing much easier.
But if you like the spirit be it brandy, whisky or tequila then it can be used to make a DIY infusion. They key thing is to try and choose compatible flavoured ingredients—such as cherry and brandy.
Why do you think trends are now leaning towards making your own rather than buying pre-flavoured?
People happily do both. Buying doesn’t exclude making your own. But as people explore flavours, foraging and local flavours they are eager to make their own.
The emergence of ‘radical’ flavours within the alcohol industry is becoming apparent. Flavours such as: bacon, pickle, smoked salmon, peanut butter and popcorn have been spotted on shelves. How would you advise somebody making their own blend, to choose a flavour combination that is bold yet palatable?
Have fun and give it a go. If a trial infusion using 250ml of a spirit works, then providing you’ve kept notes it is easy to scale the recipe up for a larger quantity. Just remember, disaster rarely happens.
Can you share with us some recipes that involve infused or flavoured alcohol?
My favourite creations often happen by chance—the strawberries are ripe on my allotment. The raspberries are ready for picking. Perhaps it is a clump of blackberries seen on a dog walk. A handful of fresh fruit usually makes a fabulous infusion.
What are your plans for the future—will you continue to focus on alcoholic beverages or will your recipes branch into other fields?
Well I have a shelf groaning with bottles of infusions, so perhaps a party is in order! I’ve just updated a book for people who want to become a commercial brewer. I’m currently about to embark on a new book project for people who want to set up a commercial distillery.
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