The Easy Hack That’ll Take Your Cocktails To The Next Level

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We’re the first to admit we’re not master mixologists, and anyone in the same camp will want to be privy to this cocktail hack. We visited Hangar 1‘s brand-new distillery and tasting room outside San Francisco and caught up with lead distiller Caley Shoemaker for some insider tips and tricks to supercharging boozy beverages. Our favorite takeaway? Infusing vodka with various herbs and botanicals, which is not only a surprisingly fun and creative outlet, it’s also very easy and the results are delicious (especially for those who aren’t partial to the alcohol’s flavor straight). Here, Caley breaks down the need-to-know basics, key ingredients to use and cocktail ideas to make the most of your creation. With the holiday party circuit right around the corner, there’s no better time give it a try.

Cocktail enthusiasts Samantha Jones & Carrie Bradshaw. Photo: Everett Collection

How To Create Your Own Vodka Infusions

The Zoe Report

"Vodka is super versatile and can pair well with something lightly flavored like grapes as well as something strong like a hot pepper. Homemade infusions have a fresh, natural flavor, and making your own better-than-store-bought infused spirits is not some elaborate or expensive project. It's as easy as putting things in a jar, pouring booze on top and waiting."

The Zoe Report

"To flavor your infusions, choose fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices—no more than two or three mixed together.

  • Herbs: Use them whole, including the stems.
  • Vegetables: Leave the skins on, then chop coarsely.
  • Citrus: Slice thin or just use the zest.
  • Fruit with textured or tough skin, hard shells or rinds (banana, mango, melon): Remove and discard skin, remove pits or seeds, then chop coarsely.
  • Fruit with soft skin (peach, apple): Leave skin on, remove pits or seeds, then chop coarsely.
  • Berries: Remove greenery, then leave whole.
  • Peppers: Remove seeds, then chop coarsely.
  • Ginger: Peel, then slice thin.
  • Vanilla: Split lengthwise.
  • Spices: Break with mortar and pestle.

There's no need to cook any of the ingredients. If your spices are a little old, toast them to release and liven up the flavor, but it's not necessary for fresh spices.

My favorite combination is red or yellow peppers and Hangar 1 vodka. The peppers totally kick up the heat factor and make for a great cocktail."

The Zoe Report

"Flavor-infused cocktails are always in order for a holiday party, and there's no better way to up your amateur bartending skills than with homemade vodka infusions. Test out combos you've been itching to try, like fig, vanilla bean and cardamom for a martini or habanero peppers for a spicy Bloody Mary."

Fig, Vanilla Bean and Cardamom Vodka (vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free)

  • 1 bottle Hangar 1 vodka
  • 1 lb organic fresh figs, stems removed and cut into quarters
  • 2 organic vanilla beans, split
  • 1 to 2 tbsp dried cardamom pods

Add all ingredients to a glass jar, pitcher or bottle. Let sit in the fridge for a few days and sample daily until it suits your taste. Strain out all solids, and add the vodka back to the jar or bottle. Enjoy as is on the rocks or in a cocktail.

The Zoe Report

"If you're just using one flavoring item, all you have to do is taste-test regularly. Sample a little bit after one day. If it's nowhere near ready, wait a couple more days before you try again. Keep going, tasting more frequently as the flavor intensity gets closer to what you want."

Here are some general timing guidelines for commonly used ingredients:

  • Herbs, hot peppers, vanilla beans, ginger, cinnamon, citrus: 1 to 3 days
  • Melons, sweet peppers, berries, stone fruits: 3 to 6 days
  • Cucumbers, most vegetables, apples, pears: 5 to 7 days
  • Most dried spices: 8 to 14 days
Caley Shoemaker. Photo: Courtesy of Hangar 1

For more info on Caley, Hangar 1 and their new Visitors' Center in Alameda, head to HangarOne.com.