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I would like to infuse alcohol (gin specifically) with basil, but basil is quite a fragile plant and doesn't seem to react well to sitting in booze for a few days. I tried muddling basil and putting it in an air tight container with my gin. I stored it at room temperature in a dark cabinet and tasted it daily. After one day it was starting to get a hint of basil, but the taste was not strong enough. The color was a pleasant light green. After two days, the color had gone greenish brown and the flavor had gone south. It's hard to explain, but it was not good. I assume you'd have the same issues with mint, parsley, cilantro, etc.

How can I get a better basil flavor in my infusion? Should I just use a ton of basil and infuse for a day? Should I not muddle the basil? Should I blanch the basil?

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3 Answers

If you have access to an iSi or other whipped cream charger, you can use it to infuse very quickly, eliminating any off-colours or off-flavours that would develop from steeping. There are several posts on this process, including one at Cooking Issues and another at Playing with Fire and Water.

It's really very simple, just add your flavouring agents to room-temperature liquid, charge up, swirl for 30 seconds, let stand for 30 seconds, vent and strain.

The working theory seems to be that the high pressure forces tiny bubbles into the flavouring items, which then escape back into the liquid after releasing the pressure. Whatever the scientific explanation is, it works brilliantly.

Don't crush or muddle them first. That leads to rapid enzymatic browning, even when preserved in alcohol.

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This is actually what I've been doing to great success. I wanted to create much larger batches of this particular flavor (gin + basil + lemon zest) without having to spend $1 / 2 drinks, which is how the N2O shakes out. –  yossarian Jun 14 '12 at 2:16
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@yossarian: What if you made a highly-concentrated batch in the iSi, and then diluted it with the rest of the liquor? –  Aaronut Jun 14 '12 at 23:33
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Refrain from muddling, use more (fresh) basil, (try agitating,) and infuse for a longer duration; I quickly found one recipe for basil-infused vodka requiring a four day sit and two "fists" of basil. Vanilla and ginger can take a week, cucumber vodkas can entail a fourteen day sit.

  • Some constituents will infuse quickly (habanero, strong flavor), some will not (cucumber, subtle flavor)
  • Some should be processed whole to avoid "off-flavors" or other reactions like browning (basil), while others should be crushed (garlic, promoting allicin production), shredded (carrots, increasing surface to area to increase extraction), or chopped (pears).

Many variables play into how various ingredients will infuse various liquors, and I don't feel it would be fair to really say there is a general rule to follow. To begin, though, I would identify your main variables with respect to solute (look for basil recipes, if none then other leafy herbs), solvent (look at the pH of the alcohol in addition to the type and proof), and method (duration, preparation of solute, agitations, single v. multiple/compound macerations), and look to similar approaches.

Hands-on Patience is the real virtue here though; vis-a-vis frequent sampling. From everything I have read and seen in both my limited experience and another friend's, even returning to what you thought was a 'tried-and-true' can yield very different results.

  • With respect to discussions on vodka & gin VS. Everclear extractions, there is a Chow thread of interest
  • With respect to the industrial processing of macerations and compound distillates, I found an interesting article on ICS
  • If the browning continues, you might consider adding a citrus like lime or lemon to see if that stems the browning as the added acid may inhibit this (Gordon's has a pH of 6.9, others, particularly cheaper gins, range down to 3.8). That said, in my limited explorations with infused vodkas I have not run into a browning issue so it may simply result from muddling (bruising).
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Good answer. Do you have any guidelines for when you should use different techniques or length of sit? –  yossarian Jun 13 '12 at 18:38
    
@Yoss I don't have any hard-fast rules of my own, and I tried to mine some up to no avail. For me the main issue is to do with how concentrated the oils already are in the item, and how accessible they are (or can be made) without causing side-effects (i.e. mottling leading browning in mint/cilatro/basil). The main rule would be: drink gin every day until it tastes good. –  mfg Jun 13 '12 at 21:03
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In the off chance you have access to a rotary evaporator (or you are willing and able to build one), it does seem to be possible to infuse vodka with delicate herbs like cilantro and thai basil.

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:D Definitely not. Although, I've found N2O infusion to work really well for basil. What I want to do is a much larger quantity since I like the drink so much. Maybe I'm stuck with the more expensive N2O process. –  yossarian Jun 13 '12 at 20:19
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