There's nothing quite like popping the cork from bottle of fine champagne at midnight on New Year's Eve, but cocktails are the name of the game for most of the evening. Flavored (infused) liquor is an excellent way to add extra pizazz to cocktails without really trying.
Almost any spirit can be infused, though vodka seems to be the most popular. Substituting infused vodka for plain vodka in standard cocktails adds an entirely new dimension to the drink, while recipes created with that particular flavor in mind fully highlight the vodka's intricacies.
The popular flavored vodkas on the US market tend to be sweet or fruity, but spicy, savory flavors add unexpected punch to drinks. One of my favorites is pepper vodka, or pertsovka; the heat of the peppers masks the burn of the alcohol and adds an entirely new character to any vodka-containing beverage.
Flavored vodka is also incredibly simple to make at home and allows for unusual and unique flavor combinations, like anise or coriander, that aren't available at the liquor store. And, if you're a little late with holiday presents, a prettily-packaged bottle of homemade good cheer makes an excellent gift.
The process is essentially marinating fruits, vegetables, herbs or spices in alcohol for a period of time so that the alcohol absorbs the food's character. Keep in mind that some infusions can take weeks for the flavors to fully merge, though stronger flavors, such as vanilla, citrus, garlic, and most herbs, will be palatable after a few days-- just in time for New Year's Eve.
I recently made a batch of ginger-infused vodka. To make your own, put a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger into a 750-mL bottle and let it sit for a few days, shaking periodically. After extensive quality control, I've determined that the fresh yet classic flavor of ginger is perfect for a New Year's Eve Martini or a hair-of-the-dog New Year's morning Bloody Mary.