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I’m a simple drinker. I like my bourbon on the rocks or with soda. Still, I can’t deny the appeal of a good cocktail from time to time.

So, in the name of exploration and learning, I’ve turned my tiny apartment kitchen into a cocktail lab. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on creative alternatives to my standard bourbon and cola. I’ve stayed up till the wee hours making tonic syrup, muddling herbs, and testing different types of bitters. The most effective and delicious of the cocktail tricks that I’ve learned so far–and the one that I want to share with you all–has been infusing alcohol. It’s easy. Take a handful of anything from walnuts to strawberries to bacon to ramps–which didn’t turn out so well–and drop it into a jar of some booze.

Before we get too far, let me share a few tips:

1. The higher a liquor’s proof, the more flavor it will absorb. So go for the strong stuff.
2. Peach cobbler just wouldn’t taste as good with raw peaches, and neither would peach-infused bourbon. Heat your fruit on the stove for a few minutes just before you place it in the liquor.
3. Soak nuts in water for at least half an hour, then toast them in a 350-degree oven for 5 minutes to cut the tannins that could turn your favorite liquor to alcoholic swamp water.
4. Leave your concoction in a dark place for a week, shaking it daily to encourage flavor absorption. If it’s not to your taste after a week, leave it for another week. Just don’t let it infuse for too long, as the flavors will intensify the longer that ingredients remain in the booze. I recently came across a mason jar of tequila to which I’d added a handful of dried chilies back in November. Six months later, the stuff tastes more like hot sauce than tequila.
5. When you’re ready, strain out the solids–I use a funnel and cheesecloth–and enjoy.

To inspire you to get to work on your own infusions, and because it’s been awfully hot this week, here’s a take on the mint julep that freshens up the old recipe with blackberry-infused bourbon and an easy–I promise–peach syrup. It’s done well with the taste-testers at my house. Enjoy.

Rich Peach Simple Syrup

**Ingredients: **
1 cup sugar
2 sliced peaches
1/2 cup water

**Directions: **
Combine water, peaches, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then simmer and stir until all of the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and let it cool. Strain any solids using cheesecloth or paper towels.


Blackberry-Bourbon Mint Julep

1 oz. rich peach simple syrup
6 mint leaves, plus more for garnish
3 oz. blackberry-infused bourbon
3 cups crushed ice

**Directions: **
Add the syrup and mint leaves to the bottom of a julep cup or rocks glass. Lightly bruise the leaves with a muddler or the back of a spoon. Add the bourbon and half of the ice, and stir to mix. Fill the rest of the cup with ice. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.