Phoenix bartender Jason Asher doesn’t remember the first time he tried to “jack” a spirit, but he definitely remembers the first fruit he tried it with: strawberry. And he definitely remembers the rationale. “The goal was a really deep flavor that didn’t require me to muddle every single time,” he recalls.
Inspired by the freeze distillation methods once used to make applejack, “jacking” is a quick and easy way to infuse spirits with flash-frozen fruit. “Applejacking was the jumping-off point to the approach,” explains Asher, who first thought of the infusion technique in 2011 while operating Jade Bar at the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort in Paradise Valley. Historically, colonists made applejack by fermenting and freezing cider, then drilling a hole into the ice to extract the remaining high-proof liquid from the center. Known as “freeze distillation” or “jacking,” the method is no longer permitted by regulators, but offers insight into extracting concentrated flavor from frozen ingredients.
Asher, who now owns Century Grand, a railway-themed bar and restaurant, as well as UnderTow, a tiki bar designed to look like the interior of a clipper ship, applies a twist on the concept to infuse spirits: Instead of frozen cider, he starts with frozen fruit. Individually quick-frozen fruit, preserved at the peak of ripeness, can infuse a spirit in the span of 24 hours. “The ice crystals freeze the juice in place,” explains Asher, “and when it thaws, the ruptured cell walls leak out the juice.” Typically, one pound of frozen fruit is enough to infuse a liter of any spirit.
Previously, Asher had experimented with using fresh fruit for infusions, but left at room temperature, it took up to a week to extract robust flavor. Sous-vide was faster, but didn’t provide the desired effect. “Cooked strawberry tastes different than fresh,” he explains.
Not only does it expedite flavor extraction, the process results in an exceptionally vibrant color and intensity of flavor, according to Asher. He notes, however, that certain infusions (like strawberry) don’t maintain the sweetness of the ripe fruit, and he suggests adding sugar to certain finished infusions, particularly when working with a liqueur, to adjust for the discrepancy. Typically, a quarter-cup of sugar per bottle will restore the liqueur’s perceived sweetness.
To date, Asher has used the jacking technique to make a strawberry-infused Fernet-Branca to add complexity to a Daiquiri variation; a raspberry-infused gin for a modified Clover Club; a blueberry-flavored vodka for a yogurt-based lassi-style drink; and mango-infused rum for a tiki cocktail previously featured at UnderTow.
Of course, the technique has its limits. For example, frozen vegetables and herbs do not translate into a straightforward flavor extraction. “When you freeze herbs, they have this tea-like aroma afterwards, almost a little musty,” says Asher, who advises sticking to freshly muddled mint for Mojitos.
But jacked spirits can be worthy standalone specimens, too. Asher points, in particular, to a pineapple-jacked St. George Terroir gin he made to shore up a Pendennis riff served at Century Grand shortly before it closed for the pandemic. As Asher remembers: “That one was so good you could drink it by itself.”