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Infusions Are Hot!

few years ago, large, clear infusion jars started appearing
on every self-respecting restaurant bar, filled with
bright-colored fruits. Fruits that gradually faded over time
– maybe that’s why they disappeared from view. Coffee,
chocolate and other flavors seemed to take their place in
cocktails. But in this new era of infusions, all flavors are
on offer. And the infusion game has transcended cocktails:
I’ve discovered homemade infused liqueurs and even infused
wine around Boston.

Chefs and bar
managers invent infusions for a variety of reasons: it’s
creative, it’s fun, it’s traditional, it’s new. And
signature infusions – along with the drinks made with these
infusions – create a unique attraction for customers at
their establishments.

I’ve followed chef Jeff Fournier’s innovations during his
tenure at several restaurants, and he’s always been
interested in infusions. Not just as drinks, as part of the
meal. Two housemade infusions graced the menu of small-plate
first courses at the opening of his 51 Lincoln in Newton
Highlands: lemoncello with scallops and stuffed chorizo, and
hibiscus liqueur with braised short ribs. “I went to Mexico
with my wife and four other chefs. We went on a trip to
Playa del Carmen,” says Fournier. This was some years ago.
They had Swedish friends who ran a small, funky hotel with a
bar, where the Swedes made their own schnapps. “We made a
dinner for about 12 people – one of the best dinners I’ve
ever made. We caught and cured our own fish. The Swedish
couple explained about [the pairing of] schnapps and
pickled fish. And when I got back, I thought, ‘Why can’t I
do that – pairings?'”

He starts with a
“mid-level” vodka such as Svedka or Absolut and prepares the
bright, aromatic and flavorful lemoncello, allowing it to
infuse for several weeks, as the flavors become more
rounded. Fournier’s hibiscus infusion is full of fruit and
spice such as oranges and cinnamon sticks. The natural
flavor of dried hibiscus (this is from Egypt) is earthy and
floral, with an aroma reminiscent of roses. Fournier
comments, “The main thing that people have to understand is
it’s not a shot. It’s made to be sipped slowly with the food
– a little bite, a little sip, a little bite, a little sip.
It’s the whole sensation, the contrasts going on. The high
alcohol content delivers flavors in a way that is intense.
But the food is intense, too.”

infusions are sweet. Well, most cocktails these days are
sweet, so it makes sense. But you can add herbs and spices
in infinite variety. Icarus Restaurant in the South End does
this very well, with crystallized ginger, for instance.
Bartender Stephen Ponchak serves this infusion in a
tantalizing Ginger Snap drink rimmed with ground,
crystallized ginger. He started this because, at the time,
“There wasn’t any ginger vodka I was aware of.” Another, a
rosemary-based infusion, is what I’d call extreme in the
aroma department. Yet, when combined with fresh lemon and
simple syrup, it makes an alluring summer-style drink he
calls Helios. His infusions are made with Stolichnaya

At Ivy
Restaurant in downtown Boston, Bar Manager Chris
Szezechowicz [we’ll call him Chris] makes a nice
variety of flavored infusions, from sweet to spicy. “I do
the flavors I like to drink,” he admits. “I don’t go crazy .
. . I try to do them right and consistently. I’m making
syrups every day when I come in to work, before I do
anything else.” First there’s a cinnamon-ginger flavor, with
fresh ginger, whole cinnamon sticks and simple syrup in
vodka, tasting cozily autumnal. Chris uses fresh Tahitian
vanilla beans in Svedka vodka for another infusion; later he
re-purposes the used vanilla pods to flavor sugar for
rimming the drinks. His “citroncello” is an infusion of
orange and lemon rinds steeped in Smirnoff vodka for over a
month; only then does he add simple syrup. This citrus
flavor works as an aperitif as well as a digestif, in shots
and in martinis. If you’re caffeine dependent, don’t worry;
Chris makes a vodka infusion with espresso grinds and just a
touch of reduced Kahlua, so it’s not too sweet.

Chris at Ivy has one more, this time with gin: Plymouth Gin
is infused with horseradish, black peppercorns and celery
seed. “It’s a very dry gin,” Chris explains. “So it picks up
all the celery and peppers.” But Harvest in Cambridge has
the most unusual looking infusion jar; it looks more like
one of those giant antipasto jars in an Italian deli.
Displayed on a high shelf at the side of the bar, the clear
jar is filled with Skyy vodka, and neatly stacked in a
decorative manner with bright colored vegetables. Yes,
vegetables: red peppers, celery, carrots, green pepper,
rosemary, scallions, and a few jalapenos. Brunch bartender
Khalid Amir makes this early in the week and lets it steep
until Sunday when he uses it in Bloody Marys. The restaurant
also makes its own mix, called by the gory name of Bloody
Harvest Mix; the whole operation has been passed down from
bar manager to bar manager since the Harvest restaurant
re-invented itself and re-opened in 1998.

Josh Childs
is an owner and part-time bartender at the Silvertone Bar
& Grill in Downtown Boston. He started making infusions
before flavored vodkas became popular, and once he got it
right, he continued with his favorite: raspberry infused
vodka. “It kind of made sense,” says Childs. “Everybody
likes raspberries, across the board. Silvertone being the
kind of place it is, we stick with the tried and true, the
basic,” Child explains. “I’m kind of a purist in general.
Vodka makes sense to me as an odorless, tasteless spirit to
make an infusion with.” He uses fresh raspberries and simply
steeps them in “a decent vodka” for about a week. Childs
continues, “Our signature is a raspberry martini, where we
half-sugar the rim of the glass. Basically it’s our
raspberry vodka very chilled with a little bit of fresh lime
juice. And it looks very beautiful.” Childs also makes a
Raspberry Lime Ricky, but his personal favorite is, well,
pure and simple: raspberry-infused vodka with soda

Strange as it
may seem Morton’s Steakhouse is one of the newest converts,
having just begun making their own infusion in Boston when
the space was renovated last November. Theirs is made of
thickly sliced, fresh pineapple along with mint, which is
placed in Skyy vodka for about 24 hours. According to GM
Scott Crain, this is the most popular flavor in Boston
(though there may be more in other Morton’s locations around
the country). Most interesting is what this infusion goes
into: the Heavenly Palm Beacher – which is enormously fun to
drink. “What makes them heavenly is our ‘heavenly foam’. And
the ‘heavenly foam’ is a mixture of Grand Marnier,
passionfruit, sour mix and egg whites, shaken up into a foam
with a CO2 cartridge, and topped with a sprig of mint, ”
says bartender and manager Seann Reardon. Morton’s also
makes margarita, pomegranate and Cosmo Heavenly

At the airport
Summer Shack, GM Tony Brown tells me each Summer Shack has
its own infusion. Currently, the most popular flavor at his
Terminal 1 restaurant is tea-infused vodka, made with the
house vodka (Barton’s) and regular orange pekoe tea, a
combination he inherited from a previous GM. He serves it in
“Arnie on the 19th” made with lemonade and iced tea – and it
happens to be popular year ’round.

At Radius
in Boston, the bartenders compete to get their creations on
the menu – and the customers are the winners. Every quarter
or so, there’s a new contest. That’s where Radius got its
green apple vodka infusion, which is made by dissolving a
certain number of sour Jolly Ranchers in vodka. This year,
they also have a Scotch infusion: Macallan 12-year-old with
bay leaves and cloves. Co-owner Esti Parsons says, “We try
to make all of our own infusions if we possibly can –
because it keeps us interested. We’re very lucky, we have a
lot of spices at our fingertips.” She likes to try her own
hand at infusions, too. “Right now at home I have a ginger
vodka I’m very fond of. It’s been in the bottle for about
four months. We’ve switched out the ginger three times.
[It wasn’t strong enough.] It’s just a nice mixer
for a lot of drinks.”


Any minute now, OM Restaurant/Lounge in Harvard Square will
be introducing their seven new “Colors” infusions, developed
by Mixologist/Bar Manager Clif Travers. He infuses a variety
of liquors for about thirty days. “I wanted to have a new
base element to use with a cocktail to make it unique,” he
explains. Each infusion is a collection of well thought-out
flavors. “Orange” is based on a Cuban-style rum, Ron
Matusalem, with mango, Valencia orange and marjoram,
slightly sweetened. “Green” is made with Martin Miller’s gin
and Granny Smith apples, sage and a bit of Thai chili
pepper. “Brown” is Eagle Rare Bourbon with organic Bing
cherries, organic peaches and cloves. “Amber” consists of
William Grant Scotch with fennel, espresso beans and
rosemary. Milagro Tequila is the foundation for “Yellow”
with pineapple, cilantro and lemon added. Hangar One vodka
is the base for two infusions: “Red,” infused with varieties
of peppers including chilis, while the flavorings for “Blue”
include blueberries and cinnamon.

You may
already know that local chef Robert Fathman of Azure has now
made his infusions public. With business partner Brandon
Bach, he has been hand-producing them (in Somerville) and
distributing them locally since 2OO5. The line features
three flavors. The Infusion Diabolique Bourbon is made with
Kentucky Bourbon, fresh figs, vanilla bean, and cinnamon.
The Diabolique Rum is a premium Virgin Island rum that is
infused with lemon, orange and ginger. The third flavor,
Infusion Angelique Tequila, is created with 1OO% Blue Agave
Tequila, mango, lime, and pineapple. These infusions can be
found at a number of bars throughout greater Boston but
until now have only been available for retail sale at three
select location where they sell for around $35 a bottle.
However, production is scheduled to ramp up later this year
so they may be expanding. At Grape Ideas in Wayland, owner
Helmut Colbath is amazed and pleased at the dedication of
Diabolique’s customers. “We’ve had people show up from the
Gloucester area,” he marvels. “One guy drove all the way
from Rhode Island. [Customers] come from 2O or 3O
miles away. One guy today drove from downtown Boston and
bought 2 bottles of the rum.” Colbath started carrying the
spirits last fall, after his son discovered them “at a bar”.
They held an in-store tasting, got raves, and sold out of
their first batch almost immediately. Retail customers were
particularly impressed with the bourbon-based infusion, and
women especially appreciated all the flavor components.
Colbath thinks Diabolique is a great concept, “perfect for
the 21st century”. These infusions answer the question,
“Where do we go from here [with

In Italy,
each region has its own tradition of infusions, based on the
native wines, spirits, fruits, and nuts of each place. I’ve
tried nut-based and fruit-based infusions in a variety of
areas, each served by the thimbleful after dinner. And each
region claims its effects are especially beneficial at the
end of the meal, as a digestif. Certainly, after a large
dinner, they help prolong a feeling of

When chef Gianni
Scaruso came to Boston’s Umbria Ristorante, he brought with
him the traditional wine infusion of Abruzzi called ratafie
[rah-tah-FEE-yah]. In the spring, amare (“bitter”)
cherries grow on bush-like trees along the edge of the river
in this province of Italy. Many people marinate the cherries
with sugar in the local wine, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. “I
learned it from my Mum,” Scaruso says. “We used to make it
at home.” There, the cherries are gathered as they ripen;
here in the US, Scaruso has a special importer. He has been
making his ratafie on and off since he joined this
restaurant group about four years ago. Scaruso plans to make
this available as an after-dinner drink both at Umbria and
at the North End’s Bricco Restaurant in late spring.
“Because it is powerful and sweet,” he cautions, “I
recommend only a few ounces” per pour.

In a twist on
another Italian tradition, Tuscan Grill in Waltham offers
several housemade infused grappas. Currently, bar manager
Sylvain Linozzi makes the infusions, usually steeping the
fruit for a minimum of four weeks: cherry, fig, currant,
cranberry, and apple with cinnamon and raisins. He serves
them straight, at room temperature, in small pours of 1.5 to
2 ounces, with a piece of fruit from the grappa in each
glass. These grappas are shelved on their own, aside from
the rest of the liquors. Most of Tuscan Grill’s clientele
are wine-knowledgeable, so they are familiar with the
concept of grappa, whether or not they have tasted it
before. The presentation is tempting, and Sylvain says
people do order the grappas year ’round.

Of course, as
the seasons turn, and as inspiration strikes the city’s
chefs and bar managers, the flavors of the infusions they
offer will change. Evolution is exciting: what’s