How to make Citrus Vodka (from the cheap stuff!)

One my sweetie’s favorite libations (other than a fancy craft beer!) on a summer evening is Citron & Tonic. So last time we were at the store, eyeing the big $30 bottle of Absolut Citron, we decided to see if we could make something similar (or even better) ourselves, for less money! I’d read previously that you could filter cheap vodka and get it closer to premium vodka using a water filter pitcher–and we already knew how to infuse spirits with citrus (remember Making Limoncello?) –, so we figured why not try?

We bought a less expensive vodka* and went home to experiment!  On the way we stopped for a water filtering picture. We ended up with the $10 Brita 5 cup pitcher which works quite well for this application. The cup size is immaterial, since you’re basically just using the filter part.

How to make Citrus Vodka from Cheap Vodka

The theory is that vodka is vodka, it’s just the filtering of the impurities and the multiple distillations that makes it premium.  You’re certainly not going to be able to get awesome vodka from rotgut, but perhaps we could improve the quality.   Then to infuse it with lovely citrus flavor!  You could, of course, use any citrus, but we chose orange and lemon because that’s what we had on hand. You’ll need:

  • Vodka
  • 1 Orange and 1 half Lemon
  • Filter pitcher
  • Coffee filter and large rubber band


If you have a new pitcher, follow the instructions for first use enclosed with your pitcher. Attach a coffee filter to the bottom of the pitcher filter, as shown below.

Then, setting up the pitcher as shown below, pour your vodka into filter, and let it flow through to the pitcher.

Repeat 3 times.  We found it easiest to move the filter setup to another pitcher we had on hand, so we could just pour from one pitcher to another. Note:  A pint glass is perfect for holding the filter when it’s not on a pitcher.


While your waiting for your vodka to filter, use your microplane (you DO have one, right? They are awesome.) to zest away just the orange part of your orange, leaving the white pith.**   Repeat with lemon.  We only had 1/2 lemon on hand, so that’s what we used–a whole one would probably be fine too.

Use a funnel to deposit your zest in the original vodka bottle.  A chopstick can help you poke it down in there.

Pour your vodka back into the bottle.

Let sit about a week, til the vodka is nicely and fragrant, and a little yellow.  I’m sure a little longer wouldn’t hurt, but we found ours to be nicely flavored after a week.

Strain the vodka through a couple of layers of cheesecloth to remove most of the zest.  (A gravy separator worked fine for this.)

Chill, and enjoy!

Does the Filtering Work?

We had a blind taste test with a couple of friends after the filtering process, and there was a definite difference in taste and smoothness. All participants picked the unfiltered original vodka as the cheap stuff.

I’m sure this is not a Brita approved use of the filter, so of course all this is at your own risk.  I have no idea if it will ruin the filter or anything.  We did notice some of the charcoal dissolved, maybe from the vodka (hence the extra coffee filter to ensure we didn’t have charcoal-y vodka).

*note, you can really decent vodka for around $20 for the big one, but unfortunately this brand–picked randomly because we liked the bottle (bad way to pick)– was not very good. We did a taste test, and I’d recommend the Smirnoff Triple Distilled as a good less expensive option. Luksusowa is also quite good.

** If you don’t have a microplane, you can zest with a zester or a paring knife, just be sure to avoid the pith.  And you may want to increase the amount of orange, since the pieces won’t be as small.