I love liqueurs. I just think they are delicious and decadent and wonderful on so many levels...delicately flavored, smooth and warming on the palate, and they have the ability to transform a scoop of ice cream into something just a little naughty...
Imagine my thrill a few years ago when I discovered I could make my own. Admittedly, nothing I've managed to brew in my kitchen has matched the glory in that $21 bottle of Grand Marnier, but I've done some pretty good stuff. And these are the kinds of recipes that are honestly easy, if a little time-consuming.
Basic Liquer Recipe
Phase One: Infusing
- Lightly fill a quart jar (I never do more than a quart my first time out on any recipe; the size of the jar really isn't important; I save big applesauce jars all year for this purpose) with the herbs and/or fruit of your choice. Don't pack it down, just kind of fill it.
- Pour clear 80-100 proof vodka or spirits over it, to the top of the jar. (The better the vodka, the better the liqueur, of course...however, a cheap and still very nice alternative is a half and half mixture of grain alcohol and distilled water. That makes about 100 proof.) (Distilled water is cheap at your local pharmacy. Don't ever drink it from your stainless steel water bottle; save it for stuff like this.)
- Put a lid on the jar and let sit in a cool dark place for about 2 weeks; shake every day or so.
Phase Two: Sweetening
- Strain liquid through several layers of cheesecloth, one layer of muslin, or even an unbleached coffee filter, into a large pyrex container. Squeeze all the liquid you can out of the filter. (When I did this with cherries, the leftover fruit became a really yummy treat! If you save these, label your bottle well so your kids don't get into it!)
- In a pan over the stove, make a simple sugar syrup: mix equal parts sugar and water and heat to a simmer but not a full boil. You want the same amount of syrup as you have herbal alcohol--if you have 3 cups infused vodka, you want to use 3 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar. This will give you just over 3 cups sugar syrup. (Save the rest to put in your tea or something!)
- Mix together equal parts infused alcohol and sugar syrup and pour into old wine or liqueur bottles you didn't throw out. Label the bottle with contents and date.
- Let mellow for about two months in a cool dark place. Honestly, the fridge does just fine for me.
Phase Three: Bottling and Drinking
- At this point, it's pretty much ready. If you are just drinking it yourself, you don't have to do anything else--just pour and enjoy.
- To give as gifts, pour into pretty bottles (either saved ones or new ones--I buy mine from Specialty Bottle, because you can get smaller-than-case amounts.) and make pretty labels.
Not bad, huh? Pretty easy!
Some suggestions and hints:
- If you are using citrus peel, make sure you only use the zest--don't let any of the white pith get into the alcohol, or it will be bitter.
- Use organic fruits, especially citrus fruits! Remember that you are extracting the alkaloids from the plant material, and if there's pesticide residue you're extracting that too, in higher concentration!
- For a fruit liqueur, instead of using half grain alcohol and half water, try substituting fruit juice for some of the water for even more flavor.
- Spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, and anise can also add a really nice flavor. Beware of cloves--they go a long way and will numb your mouth. (I'll do another post later on natural dental care! Clove-infused booze is great for a toothache!)
- If you are using herbs, and you want your liqueur to be pretty when you're done, you may want to lay a layer of plastic wrap over the top of your alcohol in the jar--any leaves that float to the top will oxidize and turn brown, which won't affect the flavor of the final product, just the color.
And finally, some recipe suggestions:
- Fresh sweet cherries and two oranges worth of zest and juice (straight cherry, sadly, often tastes a lot like cough syrup.)
- Lemon Balm leaves with Lavender flowers (Straight-up sleeping potion, this one!)
- Lemon Balm leaves with 3 lemons worth of zest and juice
- Fresh mint leaves with 5-6 oranges worth of zest and juice.
- Fresh grated ginger root with fresh German Chamomile flowers
- Heck, fresh grated ginger root with just about anything, or by itself! (Great for the digestion!)
- Almost any fresh (or frozen!) berry mixture--try raspberry, blueberry, blackberry...have fun.
Again, I always recommend the google search (Check out Gunther Anderson's site--dozens of recipes there!)--there are lots of recipes out there. If you try these in smaller quantities, keep really good track of what you put in there, so you can recreate it later if you love it.
I've done a couple of other posts on this--one last summer with fruit and herbs and stuff, one with my adventures with cherries, and another where I found a recipe for homemade Irish Cream Liqueur. Have fun!
And, as always, infuse responsibly!
--Jenn the Greenmom