Written by Chris Benjamin, director of food and beverage at the Essex Resort and Spa

Over the past couple of years, infusions have been all the rage in restaurants. And why not? They allow us to express our creative natures, utilizing the freshest ingredients, without being confined to the liquors and liqueurs that are available on the market. Not to mention the fact that they’re some of the easiest things to make and store, and they last a long time.

In these days where micro-gastronomy and micro-mixology continue to reach new heights, infusions continue to get more intricate, complex, and subtle, while staying affordable. Flavors range from simple fruit (mango, pineapple, lime and strawberry) to complex infusions of herbs, flowers, vegetables, and spices. And because of the nature of infusions, it’s not required that you use premium liquors such as Patron or Grey Goose as the base; the flavoring agents do most of the work.

Tons of restaurants have infusions these days (including, yes, ‘Butler’s Restaurant & Tavern’). Take Burlington’s The Green Room, for example. My buddy Alex Moran is the bar manager and mixologist, and soon he’ll be bringing back his incredible peach-and-cinnamon infused Herra Dura tequila.

Drink in Burlington features an iced tea-infused vodka with tea, oranges and simple syrup (equal parts of sugar and water). Leunig’s offers a great Thai pepper-infused vodka for your Bloody Mary (Leunig’s GM Bob Conlon tells me he loves the mix but thinks the vodka’s a little too spicy for his tastes. I say, “Bring it on!”)

Here at Butler’s Restaurant and Tavern, we feature one of our most popular infusions, which we try to make enough of to last all year—the blood orange-infused vodka. Blood oranges, also known as Moro, Tarocco (native to Italy) or Sanguinello (native to Spain), are extremely sweet and very beautiful (as the flesh is tinged dark red as they ripen). Extremely seasonal (usually found only from December through April), it is a great fruit to use in infusions (and in the killer cosmopolitan recipe below).

The beauty of infusions is you don’t have to be a master mixologist to make your own. All you really need are a base spirit, a large jar that holds at least a quart, some flavoring agents, a dark, cool spot in your home, and a little time. So infuse a little flavor into your cocktail, and enjoy!

Blood Orange Infused Cosmopolitan

2 oz. blood orange-infused vodka
1 oz. Cointreau
Splash of lime juice
Splash of cranberry juice

Combine ingredients and shake vigorously with ice. Strain in a cocktail glass and garnish with a lime.

Making Your Own Infusion
1. Start with your base. The more neutral the spirit, the more the flavor will be reflected. Vodka is a natural starting point, but you can also try tequila (we infuse strawberries), rum (try pineapple or coconut), bourbon (mint is nice, but blackberries are great, too), or even gin (cucumbers are very refreshing).

2. Puncture your flavor. Depending on what you’re using, make sure it has an easy way to infuse into your spirit. Berries are best sliced. Herbs should be left whole with stems. Larger fruits can be diced. And vegetables can be whole or sliced. (Depending on intensity, hot peppers can be cut in half or left whole, while cucumbers should be sliced into rounds).

3. Infusion time. Once you’ve combined your ingredients, seal your container shut and leave in a dark place. For best results, shake 3-4 times a day. Flavorful agents such as citrus, peppers, herbs, etc., can be left 3-5 days. Lighter flavors such as berries, pineapple, some spices, etc. can go as long as two weeks.

4. Strain the goodness. Make sure you strain your fruit to capture all the flavoring agents. In a finely meshed strainer, pour your juice and fruit through and gently tamp down to extract the juice. WARNING: Do not over press the fruit as it’s possible to extract the bitterness from the seeds and skins. (After you’ve pressed the fruit, you can eat it, although I don’t recommend it, since it’s mostly saturated by alcohol with little of its original flavor).

5. Store your infusion. Most infusions will be just as easy to store as the spirit base you’ve chosen. You can keep it in the same mason jar if you like, just make sure that it’s well cleaned.