Hibiscus Mezcal and the Art of a Perfect Infusion

Posted on: Jun. 15, 2016 | | By: Jim Sullivan

Infusions, at first glance, seem so simple: put some ingredients in a jar, pour your liquor of choice over it, seal it up and let it hang out for a while. But there are so many different factors at play that producing a consistent, reliable result every single time requires some serious attention to detail. Each ingredient varies wildly depending on its water content, acidity, infusion time required and so on, and it can take quite a bit of trial and error to figure this out.

Yanni Kehagiaras, bar manager at Liholiho and creator of their Surfer Rosa cocktail. All photos by Jim Sullivan. 

Yanni Kehagiaras, bar manager at San Francisco’s Liholiho Yacht Club, gets this. Kehagiaras perfected his own hibiscus mezcal infusion after lots of research and development — as the star ingredient in the bar’s Surfer Rosa cocktail, the infusion needed to be replicated with near-perfect consistency each time to minimize any variance from drink to drink. He shared not only the infusion process and drink recipe with us, but also his tips for achieving a balanced, flavorful infusion that you can recreate for guests with uniform results.

Use the right tools for the job.

“Using a digital scale to measure out whatever you choose to infuse will give you an unparalleled batch to batch consistency,” says Kehigiaras. “This consistency can manifest itself in terms of flavor, color, and overall intensity of the finished product.”

Timing is everything.

“The other very important aspect to a proper and consistent infusion is time, and knowing exactly how much time is required,” he tells us. “When infusing something for the first batch, a bit more attention must be given. With that said, it’s important to keep trying your infusion at intervals of hours, or days —depending, of course, on what is infusing. Certain ingredients such as tea, or in this case, hibiscus can yield aggressive qualities such as being too bitter or overly tannic, and can ruin your batch altogether if left for too long.”

Dried ingredients can cut down on variables.

“Lastly, more often than not using dried ingredients in an infusion will produce ideal results. When ingredients are dehydrated, that absence of water will ultimately result in more concentrated sugars and intensity of flavor.”

Read on to see how Yanni makes his bar’s hibiscus mezcal, and for the smoky, bold drink recipe that it’s showcased in:

The base of the Surfer Rose is hibiscus-infused mezcal, made with dried hibiscus flowers. Yanni uses 25 grams per 750 mL of mezcal.

Yanni specifically recommends using dried flowers rather than fresh, as their lack of water content will yield a more concentrated flavor.

Dried hibiscus flowers will lend a radiant red hue to the drink.

The hibiscus flowers are steeped in Vida Mezcal for four hours.

Yanni finds that four hours is just the right amount of time to pick up the vibrant flavor and color of the hibiscus without adding tannic notes.

Yanni also recommends using a digital kitchen scale to measure and weigh out ingredients, in order to ensure consistency in future infusions.

The final infusion is used in the Surfer Rosa cocktail, which is structurally similar to a Collins.

Yanni adds fresh lemon — three-quarters of an ounce — to the drink, which adds tartness to the mezcal’s aggressive smoke.

A half-ounce of Punt e Mes gives a slight bitterness, while pairing nicely with the hibiscus.

The addition of Benedictine brings a subtle herbal sweetness to the drink.

After combining the hibiscus mezcal, Benedictine, Punt e Mes and lemon juice in a shaker, Yanni shakes and strains it into a Collins glass over soda.

Despite having a fruity appearance, the Surfer Rosa is actually smokey, slightly tannic, and bone dry.

…and it was named after the Pixies’ album, so you know it’s going to be good.

The Surfer Rosa

    • 1 1/2 oz. Hibiscus-infused Del Maguey Vida Mezcal (recipe below)
    • 3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
    • 1/2 oz. Benedictine
    • 1/2 oz. Punt e Mes
    • 2 oz. Fevertree Soda water

Combine hibiscus mezcal, fresh lemon juice, Benedictine and Punt e Mes in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain over soda water in a Collins glass.

The Hibiscus Mezcal

Add 25 grams of dried hibiscus flowers to 750mL of Del Maguey Vida Mezcal in glass canning jar. Steep for four hours. Strain through a china cap to remove the hibiscus flowers, and fine strain again through a coffee filter to clarify and remove any remaining unwanted sediment. Re-bottle using a funnel.

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