Update on Infused Vodka – what to do when an infusion goes bitter

For those of you who followed WellPreserved over the Holidays you may recall a post on infusing vodka.  The idea was simple and we followed tested techniques.  We were on a path to success.

And then I left the fruit in too long…

Despite warnings in all I read, I did not pull the apples and pears out in the recommended 24-26 hours.  The fruit went brown and the liquid followed. The color isn`t the end of the world – in fact I like it.  It`s lovely on the shelf – medicinal to the mouth.

Since this experiment started with almost a litre of vodka, this was an expensive flop.  It was time for a rescue mission – all faith is not lost.  I am pleased to say that while it was not ready for the Holidays, our infusion experiment is turning the corner towards success.  We did some research, tweaked our recipe and it`s starting to taste fantastic.

Here`s what we`ve learned about `saving`an infusion that was left too long:

  1. Don`t panic.  Don`t throw it out.  Keep calm.  Carry on.
  2. Strain the entire lot through several layers of cheesecloth to remove any solids.  This worked well and lowered the bitterness from battery acid to that of a 9-volt battery.  Progress but not success.
  3. Wait patiently.  Like preserves, taste can change over time.  It will likely get milder over a 30-day period.  I`ve been tasting it weekly and it`s calming down.
  4. Dilute with more vodka.  An obvious remedy that I would have missed.
  5. As a measure of last desperation, mix in sugar – I would create a simple syrup (water and sugar) to mix at the last-minute.

We tried a combination of things:

  1. Strain it.
  2. Mix the two infusions together.
  3. Add vanilla bean to infuse a smoother, sweeter undertone.  We left it in for a long time (about 7 days).  The beans will be used with ice cream.
  4. Wait 30 days and see if it needs further tinkering.

Our tipple on New Years Eve was tough to swallow.  A small sample last night showed clear progress is happening – it`s not a struggle to force back and, in fact, tasting smooth and special.  I think we are headed in a great direction here.

Our future infusions (starting soon) will be done in smaller quantities and will risk under-infusing as opposed to soaking for too long.  We could always add a second batch of apples to continue a mild infusion if we wanted more flavor.  Just like cooking, it is easier to add more flavor than remove it after all.

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  1. Do you know if the same would be true for say a buddha’s hand that I have infusing for limoncello? Most call for it sit for 2-3 weeks. I’ve also got vanilla beans steeping in vodka for my own extract and they’ve been there for months.

  2. @Manny- I doubt it on the vanilla extract. They have to sit at least for two months to be extract, and then I think you can just add to it as you see fit, utilizing your empty pods. At least that’s what I’ve read, my extract is on month one right how. Can’t wait to make Limoncello. Sounds great!

    • I am also not sure… Julia has my expertise dwarfed in this one. Manny is your Buddha’s hand actually in the booze?

      I am sure I saw a really neat technique years ago on Christine Cushing Live (a Canadian Food Network show) where they made it in the most intriguing way – and something I’ve been meaning to try for a long time. As I recall, they put vodka in the bottom of a large glass container. They wrapped a lemon in cheesecloth and suspended it OVER the vodka, making sure it did not touch the booze (they claimed that would cause it to go bitter). They sealed the jar with an airtight lid or tight plastic wrap and left for a prolonged time – I think it was about 60 days. As the lemon deteriorated, the air within the jar infused flavor into the hooch (thanks Julie, been a while since I’ve said that word!). It fascinated me, will have to take a look and investigate more.

      If in doubt Manny, split your batch and try a few experiments and see what happens. At the end of the day more vodka and sugar should be able to save almost any infusion if served ice cold – but I suppose the end goal is not to make something that is simply tolerable! Smiles…


      • The buddha’s hand was chopped up is sitting in some vodka. Its only been in there for a few days but I will be checking it every few days to see if it gets bitter. I was going to add a simple syrup at the end but I wanted to go lighter on the sugar compared to other limoncello I’ve tasted and found sickly sweet.

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    • it may mellow with time; of course you can add more vodka or use it in any cocktail that calls for simple syrup (it’s a combination of water and sugar) and replace simple syrup with water. If it’s not sweet enough after diluting it like that, add a touch of honey to the cocktail. Would those ideas help? 🙂