Often when we crave a sweet, refreshing summer cocktail, we end up stuck with some cloying fruity bottled mix made from artificial everything. This is thanks to our own laziness, a friend's, or a bartender who doesn't know any better. And we get it—there's no denying the ease of premade Margarita mix, especially when you're entertaining a crowd. But keep in mind: The drinks you serve your guests will only be as good as the ingredients in them. So this summer, consider making fruit-infused spirits. They'll add another layer of flavor to your drinks, and making them is easier than you might think.
Step 1: Choose your liquor
Vodka is an obvious choice, but why not use white rum or tequila, brandy or grappa? Don't go for the really cheap stuff, but don't splurge either. A middle-of-the-road, neutrally flavored liquor will produce the best infused spirits.
Step 2: Choose your produce
Use what's in season. Go to your local farmers' market or, better yet, pick berries from your own berry patch, and bring home the most beautiful produce you can find. The super-ripe peach that dribbles juice down your chin is a perfect candidate. Also try raspberries, strawberries, pears, figs, lemons, cherries, blueberries, even beets and chiles, as long as they are ripe, ripe, ripe.
Some of my favorite fruit-and-spirit combos (in addition to the ones pictured above) are:
Apricots + Eau de Vie
Figs + Bourbon
Jalapeños + Tequila
Pineapple + Rum
Beets + Vodka
Step 3: Prep your fruit
Wash it well and cut it into pieces. Remove peels and skins plus any part of the fruit that you wouldn't want to eat: Stems, pits, cores, and seeds should all be tossed into the compost pile. As the liquor infuses, bitter flavors from citrus pith and seeds can leech into the liquor, so you want to avoid that.
Step 4: Bottle & wait
Fill a clean resealable glass jar or bottle with fresh, cleaned fruit. Top off with liquor and screw on the lid. Place in a cool, dark place (like a fridge) until the flavors infuse (anywhere from a week to a month, depending on your taste and the strength of the fruit). Shake the jar every few days. When you're happy with the flavor of the hooch, strain out fruit and pour infused spirits into a clean resealable glass jar or bottle; store in the fridge.
Step 5: Drink up
Use your freshly infused spirits in place of plain spirits in your favorite cocktail (Mango Margaritas, anyone?), or serve up as a Martini.
One caveat: This process requires a little patience. I generally start one mason jar of infused spirits per week throughout the summer. Depending on the type and ripeness of the fruit, infusions can take 2 to 3 weeks, so plan accordingly if you're making it for a party (or use a fresh batch as an excuse to party). A pretty jar of rosy strawberry vodka is the perfect hostess gift, and it's a lot more appealing than neon-green Margarita mix.