Dorothy Elizabeth has a secret weapon for creating infused spirits in minutes rather than days or weeks: a high-powered blender.
“I use it to make all syrups [and] botanical-based rapid flavor combos,” says Elizabeth, head bartender at New York’s Straylight. Her method for pureeing leafy greens and herbs into brightly-hued, intensely-flavored spirits is a particularly useful one this time of year, when greenmarkets and gardens are bursting with enticing produce. But she also relies on a blender to aerate solids, like cheese, for her Bleu Cheese Ramos, an upgrade to the fat-washing/milk-washing technique.
Elizabeth’s not the only one reaching for the blender. Aline Sanchez of Compère Lapin in New Orleans blends gin with sticky rose jam for her Boos Teezi cocktail (rose-infused gin, manzanilla sherry, almond grappa, served on the rocks in a Collins glass). Elsewhere, Kevin Denton, lead mixologist for Pernod Ricard, toasts spices before pulsing them in a blender to break them up. He then adds the spirit, whirs it on high speed and strains it through a coffee filter or superbag (a super-fine filter bag favored by the sous-vide set) to clarify, yielding a fragrant, spice-infused spirit.
Elizabeth says she came up with her blender infusion hack while working at Detroit bar Standby as a way to ensure steady access to Snake in the Grass, a drink featuring mustard greens-infused gin, which was typically made ahead of time using liquid nitrogen. “If we had a really busy Saturday night, we’d roll into Sunday and we would have no more liquid nitrogen left,” she recalls. “So we’d have to hack away to make our mustard greens cocktail and make this infused gin.” The solution: puree the greens in a blender, then strain off the solids.
Since then, she’s used the greens infusion technique repeatedly: “I’ve done a basil-infused Tanqueray, an arugula tequila for the omakase cocktails at Straylight, a bok choy gin. I was always playing around with random little infusions.”
How does it work? The basic move is pureeing herbs or other greens with a bit of alcohol or other liquid, “like if you’re making a smoothie,” says Elizabeth. But the key is using a high-speed blender with super-sharp blades (think Vitamix or Ninja, if you have access to one). “You’re cutting through the herbs without bruising them,” she explains. Kinetic energy, created by the motion from the blades, releases chlorophyll from inside the plant, infusing it outward into the alcohol. “You’re left with these really bright, vibrant, herbaceous flavors that would be a little bit tricky to harness in a cocktail otherwise,” she says. “Even when you strain off the solids, you’ll notice the alcohol itself is bright green.”
This technique also works with non-alcoholic mixtures, she adds. “I’ll puree some poblano with parsley and green apple, or jalapeño, cilantro, mint and fresh pineapple. Strain it off and you’re left with these really bright, herbaceous liquids,” which can be sweetened into a syrup, added to a punch or consumed straight-up.
The only place where this doesn’t work? “Stay away from cabbage or radishes,” Elizabeth says. She experimented with both in an attempt to create a naturally purple infused spirit, but quickly found that both exuded extra methane once cut into, creating an unpleasantly pungent aroma. “If it isn’t something you want to bite into on your own, you probably don’t want to try to infuse it in your spirits.”
Standard Formula for Greens-Infused Spirits
• 1 1/2 cups greens, de-stemmed or cored if necessary (leaves only)
• 1 750ml-bottle spirit
• In a Vitamix or other high-speed blender, puree greens with spirit.
• Add citric acid or lemon juice to prevent browning. Stir or briefly pulse to combine.
• Fine-strain through a tea strainer, coffee filter or nut-milk bag and funnel into clean bottle.
• Cap tightly and refrigerate for up to three days.