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Infused vodkas have been a huge cocktail trend for about the past decade, but ordering a fancy infused cocktail from a master mixologist doesn't come cheap. If you're willing to put in the time, making your own infused vodkas is relatively simple, fun, frugal(ish), and a great way to incorporate your favorite, seasonal flavors into drinks all year long.
To me, nothing tastes like Massachusetts like cranberries, so around Christmastime I set out to finally make use of the vodka infusing jar that my sister gave me as a wedding present by making cranberry-infused vodka (or cranberry liqueur) as gifts, envisioning friends mixing up holiday cocktails with fresh cranberry floaters and sugared rims and catching up by the fire...in ironic ugly holiday sweaters, of course.
One thing led to another, and three months later, I finally decanted, sifted, and bottled the mixture, which it turns out makes the absolutely perfect hack for a "Cape Codder in a Bottle." My friends' and family's holiday loss is your hot weather gain!
Even though fresh cranberries are long since in season, there's still plenty of time to mix up a batch using frozen cranberries before heading to the lake, beach, deck, stoop, patio, what-have-you this summer. Just add seltzer or ginger ale, and voila! Instant party perfection.
Here's what you'll need:
Obviously, you'll need vodka (I used artisanal vodka from Bully Boy Distillers here in Boston, supporting local makers and going for quality since it was intended as gifts, but you can use any kind of vodka), cranberries (I went for local, organic, fresh cranberries, but thawed frozen works, too), sugar (I used organic cane sugar instead of white), and a big old glass jug or jar with a lid (spigot not required).
When you go to filter and decant the vodka, you'll also need a good metal sieve, cheesecloth, plastic funnels for bottling, and bottles. I prefer the self-locking kind with rubber seals, but you can also just pour it back into the original vodka bottle, depending on how you're going to use it!
The first step is to make a simple syrup from the sugar and the water (heat water and sugar over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves, then cool completely).
While the simple syrup is simmering, finely chop the cranberries using a food processor (or by hand if you don't have one and can't borrow one, but make sure they're chopped very fine) then set aside in a large glass bowl.
Pour the vodka from the bottle into your large infusing jar or glass jug and set aside (seen at back). When the simple syrup is cooled at least to room temperature, pour over the finely chopped cranberries in the glass bowl and mix well to combine.
Then carefully dump the cranberry-simple syrup mixture into the infusing jar with the vodka, and stir like hell. Then set aside in a cool, dark place in your kitchen for at least three weeks, shaking or at least stirring completely with a wooden spoon every other day.
When you're ready to decant, line the metal sieve with cheesecloth to keep the cranberry solids out of your hooch, and filter the cranberry vodka mash through into another huge, clean, dry glass jug/jar/bowl about a cup at a time. (This part will take about an hour - make sure you have company, a good album, or a movie going on in the background so you don't dip into your labors to stay sane.)
When everything is filtered and looks relatively clear, you're ready to bottle! Ladle the cranberry liqueur into sterile glass bottles (or the original vodka bottle) through a metal or plastic funnel until just under full. Store in the cupboard or fridge for up to a year, hang a "made by/for" tag around the neck of the bottle and give as gifts, even writing the recipe (below) on the back, or do as I did and immediately invite your neighbors over to taste test.
Shoestring Cape Codder in a Bottle
Mix liberally and make a toast to summer!
Story & Photos: Copyright 2012, Melissa Massello & Shoestring LLC.