Has this ever happened to you?
You’ve got friends coming over for cocktails. People like Rick, who will judge you harshly for any lapses in ingredient availability. Then suddenly it hits you: “Oh fiddlesticks!” you think. “I forgot to start falernum two days ago!” Your friends won’t be able to have any Jet Pilots, and you’ll have to deal with their withering stares of shame and disgust for the rest of the evening. You’ll know they’ll be talking about your hosting fail behind your back for weeks.
What a faux pas!
This doesn’t have to be you!
Recently Dave Arnold, over at Cooking Issues, discovered a new method for producing infused liquor: using nitrogen cavitation to produce simple and quick liquor infusions using an iSi whipped cream maker. A technique used in biomedical research, Nitrogen cavitation uses nitrogen bubbles to fracture cell membranes while preserving the precious (and delicious) organelles inside. In the case of infusing liquor, the cells are broken down by the nitrogen bubbles to release the flavor you want to impart to your base spirit.
While this may not sound exciting on its own, the real money shot of nitrogen cavitation is that you can infuse flavor into any liquor in around a minute and a half. A process that normally takes days or weeks—like falernum—can literally be accomplished in five minutes, from start to finish.
For approximately 8oz of infused spirit, the basic process goes like this:
- Measure out whatever flavoring agents you want to infuse (this works with fresh herbs, spices, fruits, etc.).
- 12 grams of any dried spice seems to be a good number.
- 1/3c fruit appears to be a good number.
- Finely slice, chop, or crush flavoring agents to maximize surface area.
- Add flavoring agents to the chamber of an iSi
- Add 8oz of liquor to infuse into the chamber (this can be anything, I’ve tried bourbon, various rums, & vodka).
- Seal the iSi whipper, as you would if making whipped cream.
- Charge the whipper with one N2O cartridge.
- Gently swirl the contents of the iSi whipper for 1 minute.
- Let the whipper stand for 30 seconds.
- Gently vent the gas by depressing the dispensing lever on the iSi whipper
- If you get some liquid spewed out at this point, you are applying too much pressure.
- Open the iSi whipper and strain the contents through a cheese cloth or paper towel lining a mesh strainer.
- Let the mixture stand for five minutes.
That’s it. Seriously awesome infused liquor in 6.5 minutes!
This process is magical.
Note: With a 1 pint iSi whipper, you can make up to 16oz of infusion, but Dave Arnold recommends using two N2O chargers for any amount over 8oz, so I’ve written the recipe for this smaller amount.
Note: The five minutes of sitting is a rough estimate. When I made a bunch of infusions the other night, I noticed that the flavor took about five minutes to develop. For instance, a batch of date-infused bourbon tasted like Old Rip van Winkle 10 Year until we let it sit for five minutes; then date magic! I asked Dave Arnold about this and he hadn’t seen this problem, so I suspect it might be that because I (unlike every other iSi whipper owner) went for the cheap, half-pint whipper and that I can’t vent all the nitrogen before bourbon starts shooting out of my whipper’s nozzle (the infusion fizzes like beer when I filter it). So the “sit for five minutes” step might be optional if you are infusing 8oz of liquid in a one pint whipper.
As I suggested at the beginning of this post, you can use this (admittedly gear-driven) method to bail yourself out with last second infusions, especially for common tiki ingredients like falernum (I’m not sure if pimento dram would work using this method or not, given the long, slow nature of that infusion is part of p-dram’s magic). While Rick has previously posted another last-minute falernum substitute, using nitrogen cavitation is not only quicker but also doesn’t suffer the lack of high-proof rum (which is really an important component in the falernum experience, especially if you, like me, drink it straight). As such, I’ve adapted Rick’s falernum recipe to use this new technique.
Five Minute Falernum
As with slow falernum infusion, feel free to experiment with spice blends. This is more of a base-line, good falernum recipe.
Step 1: Nitrogen Bubbled Deliciousness
- 8oz rum (Wray and Nephew Overproof or El Dorado 151 if you’ve got it, but any good white rum will work)
- 50 cloves
- 1T whole allspice
- 1 nutmeg
- 8 limes, zested (Make sure to get as little pith as possible, nitrogen cavitation seems to really go for the bitter flavor in pith)
- 1/2c thinly sliced ginger coins (I used a mandolin to slice it paper thin)
Crush the nutmeg, allspice, and cloves with a mortar & pestle (or in a bag using a hammer (or whatever)). Heat these crushed spices in a skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes or until fragrant. Cool the spices. Add spices, rum, ginger, and zest to the chamber of an iSi cream whipper. Seal the whipper and charge with N2O. Swirl the contents of the whipper for 1 minute. Let rest for 30 seconds. Vent the nitrogen gas by depressing the lever on the iSi whipper. Strain the rum through a cheesecloth.
Step 2: Sugar Syrup FTW
- 2c sugar
- 1c water
Make a simple syrup by heating the sugar and water over medium-low until the sugar dissolves. Let the syrup cool. Add the cooled syrup to the infused rum. Falernum! (alternately, you could add around 1.5c pre-made 2:1 simple syrup to the infused rum).
I know, right? Nitrogen cavitation feels like cheating.
What else can you do with nitrogen cavitation, you ask?
I’ve discovered that adapting Rick’s falernum was no fluke. Most liqueur recipes can be immediately adapted to an iSi whipper, just by scaling down the recipe. So you can use it to experiment with different combinations of base spirit and different ratios for a specific fruit liqueur you are working on (I’m making different batches of creme de banane at the moment).
Additionally, you can make very small batches of different weird flavor combinations for infused spirits without having the time and cost overhead of infusing an entire bottle for several days. With that in mind, I’ve been experimenting with some interesting flavor combinations: long pepper infused tequila, date infused bourbon, and star anise infused rum, so far. The process is so quick, and the overhead is so low (you can even make half a recipe (4oz of spirit) with a single N20 cartridge, if you want), there’s no reason to not make that sichuan peppercorn, bonito infused gin you’ve always wanted!
The prospect of making to-order infused liquor is also an exciting one. The other night, my wife and I had friends over and all the cocktails were made from ingredients we infused a la minute. We made some long pepper bloody marys and palomas, date bourbon old-fashioneds, and some Saigon Mules (see below). The event was a lot of fun and the cocktails were absolutely amazing.
Finally, given that you can translate traditional methods to this new method, once you have a recipe you like that works with nitrogen cavitation, you can scale it up and make it the old fashioned way to have a whole bottle.
Now, I have to get back to work figuring out how to infuse roast pork bones into rye whiskey.
Here’s a recipe for star anise infused rum and a really great cocktail to make with it:
Star Anise Infused Rum
- 12 g star anise, lightly crushed
- 7oz white rum (I used Ron Matusalem Platino)
- 1oz Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum
Add the star anise and the rums to the chamber of an iSi whipper. Seal the whipper and charge with N2O. Swirl the contents of the whipper for 1 minute. Let rest for 30 seconds. Vent the nitrogen gas by depressing the lever on the iSi whipper. Strain the rum through a cheesecloth.
- 2oz Star Anise Infused Rum (see above)
- Juice of ½ of a lime
- Ginger beer to fill (Blenheim’s #5 Hot, if you’ve got it)
Build over ice in a tall glass; delicately stir.
- What flavor infusions are you thinking of, now that you’ve read this post?
About the Author
Andrew Pilsch is a rhetorician, cocktail enthusiast, and kitchen mad scientist.