There’s a long history of spiced spirits, especially in the Scandinavian areas of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Herbs and spices are often added to neutral grain spirits to make spirits and liqueurs like aquavit and besk. Sometimes these spirits are sweetened with honey, and other times they are just spiced.
The process of spicing spirits is a pretty simple one. All you need is:
- 1 bottle of low priced vodka (we recommend Smirnoff for this)
- 1 dry funnel
- A small glass
- An empty clean spirit bottle or 24 oz pitcher
- A fine mesh strainer
- Spice mix (To start it’s best to buy a premix to get the hang of it)
In terms of the vodka, it’s very important to not use a ‘bad’ vodka. Even though you are spicing the spirit, if the vodka is poorly distilled or crafted, your end result will reflect that. We often use Smirnoff for our spirit experiments because it’s priced relatively low (around $13 a bottle), is well made, and is a very clean vodka.
For our spices, we got a number of different spice blends sent to us from Spiced Spirits including The Pungent, The Hot, The Symphonic, and The Danish. While there are a number of home spice recipes online, it’s nice to start with a pre-made mix. Not only are the proportions going to be right, but the likelihood of producing something you’ll actually want to drink is much higher.
The process is a fairly easy one – it’s basically just putting spices in a bottle of vodka – but done wrong it can create quite a mess. One of the keys to doing it right is to pour out at least 4 oz of vodka from the bottle before you add the spices. You’ll add most of the vodka back into the bottle at the end, but if you don’t make room for the spices, the vodka will literally erupt out of the bottle (trust us, we’ve done it).
It’s also quite important to make sure your funnel is dry, as a wet funnel will create a mess of botanicals that is virtually impossible to get into the bottle. We recommend pouring the spices slowly through a funnel into the bottle of vodka. Chopsticks can be incredibly helpful to move the botanicals along and break up any pieces that don’t fit. We found that The Pungent had pieces of orange peel that blocked the funnel, so the chopsticks were lifesavers. After you pour the spices in the bottle, pour the vodka you initially set aside back into the bottle. Almost all of it should fit back into the bottle.
The next step is the easiest (or the toughest depending on your personality): just wait 7-14 days, depending on the spice blend, and your spirits will be almost ready. It’s very important that you remove the spices from the spirits within the time stated, as leaving them in for too long can make them completely unpalatable.
The results are pretty amazing considering that we started with bottles of value-priced vodka and bags of spices.
The Danish ($6) – One of the stronger of the spiced spirits, The Danish is bold and strong with clear caraway on the nose along with orange, honey, chamomile, spearmint, juniper, and licorice. The entry is full with a blast of spice including all of the notes from the nose. These herbs intensify with caraway, licorice, and juniper jumping out in front to make for a nice spicy midpalate. The finish is long and slightly dry with licorice being the dominant flavor note. The Danish has a nice mouth feel and it’s picked up some thickness and slight sweetness from the herbs. It’s hard to believe that a week ago this was a bottle of Smirnoff and a small packet of spices. Adding a spoonful of honey to a two ounce pour transforms The Danish into a delightfully herbal and sweet liqueur with enough juniper and caraway spice to cut through the honey.
The Pungent ($7) - Less spicy than the Danish, The Pungent leans more on the herbal side with a solid tarragon note in the nose along with orange, pepper, anise, and licorice. The entry is much lighter and sweeter than The Danish, with licorice, orange, anise, and tarragon standing out. The spice does build quite considerably in the midpalate where the underlying vodka also comes through along with a ramp up of the licorice and tarragon. The finish is sweet orange and licorice which sticks around for quite a long time. If you didn’t know better you’d think that The Pungent was sweetened in some way, but it isn’t. The Pungent gets its sweet character from the spice mix. The Pungent is designed to be sipped neat at room temperature without any honey as it already has a naturally sweet tone to it.
The Symphonic ($9) – Aptly named, The Symphonic has so many herbal notes going on in the nose with anise, caraway, and mint along with orange and honey. It’s amazing that there’s a honey note in the nose as there’s no honey in the spirit (yet). The entry is a blast of flavor with the mint and licorice providing a base for a swirl of other herbal notes. The mouthfeel has some weight to it as the herbs, in just 7 days, have really transformed the vodka into something completely different. The midpalate is hard to describe, but it’s close to a spicy, less sweet Jagermeister. The finish is long and spicy with licorice and mint dominating. Adding a spoonful of honey to a two ounce pour transforms The Symphonic into a tasty herbal liqueur.
The Hot ($7) – While the others needed 7 days to mature, The Hot requires a full two weeks, and the result is nothing short of explosive! From the nose it’s easy to underestimate just how fiery this spirit is. There’s mint, licorice, and orange in the nose, but it doesn’t warn you in any way of the heat blast that’s in store The entry is slightly sweet and herbal with licorice and mint as the lead flavors, and then just as we step into the mid palate – BANG! – pure fiery spice that explodes from out of nowhere. This heat is a red hot chili spice and it comes on fast and heavy. The heat does ease back a bit for the finish, but it lingers just long and hot enough to remind you of just how explosively spicy an experience you’ve just had. This is by far one of the hottest spirits we’ve ever tried! There’s no shame in pulling this one out at 7 days as the 14 day infusion is nothing short of mouth blowing – perhaps the best and most challenging bravado shot we’ve ever tried.
The process of spicing spirits is a fairly easy one and the results are a nice change from the standard fare. Given how hard it is to actually create anything at home in the spirits space, spicing spirits is a nice way to create something unique. It’s also pretty amazing just how much a small packet of spices can completely transform a bottle of vodka.How to Transform Vodka into a Spiced Spirit by Geoff Kleinman