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Infusing spirits with Cafe Malta, the Bonneville

Arianna Auber

There was so much I didn’t have the space to say in today’s lead story for the food section, a how-to on a do-it-yourself project that’s especially suited for the summertime, when the heat keeps us indoors even as clear sunny skies beckon us outside. Infusing spirits, from vodka to whiskey, is a relatively easy activity that will yield something new in the end (and that will make the 90-degree weather seem not so unbearable).

But the infusion process has a lot to it that you’ve got to consider: what spirits to use, what food items to pair with them, how much of each to add and how long to keep them infusing, for starters. My story breaks down the process with some guidelines from the likes of Stuart Thompson of Icenhauer’s, Varda Salkey of Russian House and Sandra Spalding of Twin Liquors and also includes a couple of cocktail recipes incorporating infused spirits. I wasn’t able to include tips from Nick Goulding of Cafe Malta or the recipe to a Peach and Ginger Old-Fashioned from the Bonneville (which I wrote about a couple weeks ago when describing the restaurant’s barrel-aging program), so I’m adding them here.

Cafe Malta in Southwest Austin, which focuses on Mediterranean-inspired fare, also sticks to that style of cuisine when it comes to drinks, with house-made limoncello, arancello and pompelmocello incorporated into some of their cocktails or enjoyed straight.

Limoncello, after all, is a digestif that many Italians have chilled by itself in a ceramic glass, a fact that husband-and-wife owners Nick and Jessica Goulding discovered after they lived in Italy in 2003. It seemed only right to reproduce the lemon liqueur themselves, to keep the restaurant authentic, so you’ll find large jars of limoncello infusing at the front of the bar alongside the jars of arancello (vodka with orange peel) and pompelmocello (vodka with Texas grapefruit) that Cafe Malta also makes.

Although Nick Goulding isn’t a fan of drinking limoncello by itself, he says his wife loves the stuff.

“Between Naples and Salerno, on a peninsula on the Amalfi coast, you can look over the cliffs while you’re driving and see lemon trees with lemons the size of oranges,” he says, noting that because of their proclivitity there, the oversized lemons are prominent in food and drinks in that part of Italy. Unfortunately, they don’t come as large here and are hard to find.

Nonetheless, Goulding makes the limoncello without that particular type of lemon in a two-month infusion process. It’s unsweetened at first with vodka and lemon peel (no pith, where lemon’s bitterness comes from); then, after a month of the two ingredients soaking together, the concoction is sweetened with simple syrup. He says 1 liter of vodka is infused with 8 lemons and 1 liter of simple syrup.

If, like Goulding, you find limoncello to be too sweet, try this Peach and Ginger Old-Fashioned, a beautiful and well-balanced version of one of my favorite cocktails.

Peach and Ginger Old-Fashioned

2 oz. of peach-infused whiskey (recipe below)

1 turbinado sugar cube

2 dashes of Angostura bitters

1 slice of fresh ginger

1 orange twist

Place the sugar cube, bitters and ginger slice into an Old-Fashioned glass. Muddle.

Add the peach-infused whiskey and stir.

Add ice. Stir again and serve with a twist of orange peel.

Peach-Infused Whiskey

Per 1 750 ml bottle of bourbon, use 4 medium-sized ripe peaches; add more if the peaches are less ripe or on the smaller size.

1. Cut peaches into halves, then quarter those halves for a total of eight wedges.

2. Place peach slices into a jar or container with a lid and pour in bourbon.

3. Place a lid on the container and sit in a cool, dark spot. Check after 12 hours for flavor. Infuse for 4 to 5 days.

— Recipes by the Bonneville