Flavored spirits have become a booming business in recent years, as the flavored vodka market approaches saturation and tequila, whiskey, and cognac makers jump into the game.
The joy of buying a flavored spirit is that you're one step ahead of the game when it comes to mixing a memorable cocktail, since you've already got a balanced and pleasing flavor profile to work with -- just add a bit of tonic, and second complementary spirit, and some fresh citrus (for example) and you're in business. For the lazy at heart: chill your spirit and sip it straight.
But buying your flavored spirits has a downside, too. For starters, you're paying a premium for something you can do it home -- making infused vodkas, for example, is as easy as pie. Actually, I take that back -- making a good pie is a serious kitchen challenge. It's a piece of cake.
Secondly, you make your own flavored spirits, and you know what's going in -- no artificial flavors, for example, or sketchy preservatives.
Finally, when you mix at home, you can preserve the bounty of the season. Got too many tomatoes? Cucumbers? Lemons? Berries? In addition to all your usual baking and canning, you can divert some of those to making a house-infused treat that makes for sensational hot weather cocktails.
Wikihow's got a good overview of infusing in general, but there are some nice specific flavor profiles that you can chase down if you've got the ingredients or an interest in a particular style.
A traditional Italian liqueur, Limoncello is a celebratory drink often enjoyed at the end of a meal. This fantastic and detailed Limoncello recipe by Slow Travel Italy lays out everything you need -- water, sugar, vodka, Everclear, and lemons are all that's necessary.
And if Everclear is hard to come by (it's not legal for sale to consumers in all states), this lemon infused vodka recipe will do the trick nicely.
Tomato vodka can bring an extra sunny richness to a Bloody Mary or Clam-Tomato based drink. Alton Brown shows you how it's done.
Raspberries have a strong, distinct, not overly sweet bright flavor, and pair wonderfully with the simple clarity of vodka. eHow's got a recipe for making your own raspberry-infused spirits.
A final note: There's a lot of confusion about vodka quality out there. A New York Times blind taste test rated Smirnoff -- a moderately priced brand -- the best, so keep that in mind before you drop $30 on a bottle for your infusion.
And there's a little trick that's worth knowing and sharing: Get a clean Brita filter. Buy a bottle of cheap vodka -- as cheap as it comes. Run your cheap vodka through the filter four times, and, voila, you've upgraded bottom shelf to mid-shelf for almost no money whatever. (Blind taste the "Before" and "After" if you're skeptical.) Each Brita filter is generally good for two bottles worth of filtration.