Modern cocktail lists spend as much page space touting housemade infusions and tinctures as they do brand-name bottles. And for good reason: Custom syrups and liqueurs allow bars to create signature cocktails that can\u2019t always be replicated. For bar managers and owners looking to make the most of thin operating margins, it\u2019s cheaper to make something \u201cbespoke\u201d with leftover ingredients from a restaurant\u2019s kitchen, than paying for premade commercial offerings.\r\n\r\nMaking an infused spirit or syrup is like making tea\u2014add a bunch of ingredients you like to a liquid and let them steep. And, in the same way that hot tea is brewed in minutes but iced tea is best steeped overnight, the main thing that affects the infusion is whether you use heat to speed up the process.\r\n\r\nAs a rule of thumb, cook most syrups to dissolve sugars and allow flavors to integrate, but infuse spirits at room temperature, so as not to burn off any alcohol and allow more time for flavors to subtly integrate. This means most syrups can be created on the fly for cocktails, while flavored liquors will usually need to be prepared days in advance.\r\n\r\n\r\nInfusing spirits\r\nVodka is the safest bet when experimenting with DIY flavored liquor. Neutral in flavor by definition (or at least it used to be), vodka provides a blank canvas to play with, and lets the flavor of your infused ingredients take center stage.\r\n\r\nHowever, all types of spirits can be successfully infused. Just make sure to choose ingredients that play well with the spirit\u2019s base flavor profile.\r\n\r\nTequila and mezcal take well to ingredients that compliment earthier components, like peppers, cucumber and grapefruit. With gin, you may want to shy away from pungent herbs and spices that could butt heads with the botanicals already present, and instead stick to citrus peel or cucumber. Whiskey, naturally, plays well with ingredients that complement the spirit\u2019s barrel-aged notes, meaning spices like cinnamon, allspice, vanilla, ginger, dried orange peel or apples. Meanwhile, rum works particularly well to an array of fruits.\r\n\r\nAs the wine adage goes, \u201cWhat grows together, goes together.\u201d This also applies to spirits infusions, and where the spirit hails from.\r\n\r\nA quick cheat to tell if an infusion may be a good combination is to hold a small amount of the ingredient in your mouth and take a sip of the liquor you\u2019re considering. If you like the resulting taste, you\u2019ll probably like the infusion.\r\n\r\nExpect to allow 3\u20135 days of steeping in room-temperature alcohol to achieve a desirable flavor. Give the container a good shake once a day, and taste the mixture when you do, until it reaches your preferred taste.\r\n\r\nSome ingredients may benefit from longer infusion time, but after a week you\u2019ll find that most of your added ingredients\u2019 flavors will have been extracted by the alcohol.\r\nA few quick tips on infusions:\r\n\r\n \tWhen infusing spirits with hot peppers (jalape\u00f1o, habanero, etc.), remember that the spice comes from the seeds, while the flavor comes from the skins and flesh. Tailor how many seeds you include based on how spicy you want your final infusion.\r\n \tChop larger ingredients, like peppers, into smaller pieces to create more surface area if you want a stronger-tasting infusion.\r\n \tDried fruits largely work better than fresh fruits in spirits. Juicy fruits have a lot of natural water that lock flavors inside and won\u2019t always integrate well unless muddled. Dried fruits will generally have more concentrated flavor which releases into the spirit as the alcohol is absorbed.\r\n \tConversely, you\u2019ll get the best results from fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary, rather than dried herbs. The aromatics will shine through more, and there\u2019s less chance of dusty sediment settling along the bottom of the bottle that could add a bitter aftertaste to your drink.\r\n \tNo matter how hard you try, there is just no good way to infuse Cheez-Its into vodka. It doesn\u2019t matter if you steep for two months in the back of a liquor closet thinking it would be a funny addition to your Bloody Mary. It just won\u2019t work.\r\n\r\n\r\nMaking syrups\r\nSyrups are where the home cook really gets to play. There aren\u2019t too many rules beyond keeping a water-to-sugar ratio of 1:1, then integrating whatever ingredients you think taste good.\r\n\r\nAt its most basic, a combination of equal parts plain sugar to water is called \u201csimple syrup,\u201d a common ingredient in countless cocktails. Simply heat one cup of water in a saucepan, add one cup of white sugar, stir until the mixture becomes clear and the sugar is fully dissolved, and allow to cool. Voila. A simple syrup.\r\n\r\nThe fun comes in swapping around ingredients. Instead of white sugar, try one cup Demerara (or \u201craw\u201d) sugar for a richer syrup. Or dissolve equal parts honey and water for a honey syrup, the base of classic drinks like the Bee\u2019s Knees. And instead of buying a bottle of pre-made, neon-red grenadine that\u2019ll just gather dust on your bar cart, make a simple DIY version by heating unsweetened pomegranate juice and stirring in an equal amount of sugar.\r\n\r\nIf you want to make an herb syrup using ingredients like thyme, basil or mint, you can add a few sprigs to the mixture while it heats, or to cooled simple syrup to allow it to infuse more slowly over time.\r\nQuick tips on syrups:\r\n\r\n \tGenerally, herbs cooked into the syrup will be more noticeable on the palate, while those added to a syrup after its cooled and allowed to infuse at lower temperatures will come through more noticeably on the nose.\r\n \tLook for 100% juice that doesn\u2019t use additional sweeteners to make your syrups, particularly for those that tend to have lots of added sugar before bottling, like cranberry. The natural sugars in many sweet fruit juices can still slightly alter the equal parts ratio, so reduce the sugar you add while cooking to taste, if needed.\r\n \tIf you can find it, a few dashes of orange-flower water always seems to make fruit-based syrups taste better.\r\n\r\nPreserving syrups\r\nLike anything that involves natural ingredients, many syrups will spoil given enough time. The exact length depends on ingredients used and amount of sugar, but most fruit-based syrups in an airtight container will keep for about 2\u20133 weeks, refrigerated.\r\n\r\nAlcohol can help preserve the mixture and extend its shelf life. Add a neutral spirit, like vodka, to bring your syrup\u2019s alcohol-by-volume (abv) up to about 15% to create a syrup that will last at least a few months. This equates to 5 fluid ounces, or a little more than \u00bd cup of alcohol, for one quart of syrup. Use more alcohol to extend the shelf life almost indefinitely.\r\n\r\nAlso, congratulations. You\u2019ve now made your first DIY liqueur.\r\n\r\n\r\nFinal notes\r\nMost ingredients can be used to infuse either a syrup or spirit, as in tea syrup or tea vodka. However, ingredients that have natural water content in them, like fresh fruits, tend to perform better in a syrup. When trying to create a citrus liquor infusion, like grapefruit or lemon vodka, stick to the peels, ideally with as little pith as possible (unless you want to add a touch of bitterness). Meanwhile, dried or fresh herbs may express themselves better infused into alcohol rather than a syrup, so they\u2019re not overshadowed by sugar and are given ample time to steep at room temperature.\r\n\r\nHowever, the choice is yours, and experimentation is part of the fun. Whichever you try, the results will be more enjoyable than an overpriced bottle of pre-made cinnamon whiskey or vanilla vodka.