Six months have passed since the birth of my blog. My writing and my life may still lack a clear sense of direction but I’ve persisted at both regardless and I think that is a cause for some celebration. I’ve decided to mark this milestone in my unimpressive journalistic career by returning to where it all started, the liquor cabinet.
In my first post, Infuse and enthuse part 1, I provided tasting notes on my DIY booze collection and recommendations on what’s worth making yourself. In this post I will be shamelessly repeating the same thing but with different alcohols and more realistic expectations. First of all however I thought it might be helpful to provide some general hints and tips on how to create a successful infusion.
Tips from your Spirit Guide
You can flavour your alcohol with pretty much anything. So far I’ve experimented with infusing herbs, flowers, fruits, nuts and a few accidental caterpillars (R.I.P). I find it is most satisfying to use home-picked ingredients and create drinks with no high street equivalent. That way you can palm off failed attempts on your second-rate friends and pretend they were supposed to taste like that. To sweeten my liqueur I most often use white sugar but honey, vanilla or maple syrup can add pleasant caramel tones.
Vodka, gin and brandy are the bases I most typically use but I’ve also had top-notch results with whisky, grappa and white rum. Once I even created a grapefruit liqueur with an ancient bottle of tequila, disinterred from the back of my parents’ cupboard. The result was surprisingly palatable.
The stronger the alcohol, the more flavour it will extract so pick something high-proof. The gold standard for home infusion is Everclear which has an ABV of 95%. Sadly you can’t get it for love nor money in the UK but I encourage you to smuggle some back from your holidays across the channel (dilution strongly recommended before consumption!)
Flowers and herbs have a subtle taste so it is worth splashing out on a higher quality base when you are infusing them, no one wants a bottle of fragrant drain unblocker. Supermarket own brand spirits (one up from basics) are perfectly acceptable for infusing fruit, as the flavour tends to be more robust.
Whole fruit, e.g berries, or nuts: 300g fruit/nut : 600ml alcohol : 150g sweetener
Citus: 750ml jar 3/4 full of peel : 600ml alcohol : 2 tbsp sweetener
Flowers or herbs: 750ml jar of packed petals/herbs : 600ml alcohol : 1-2 tbsp sweetener
- Prepare your ingredients. For fruit and flowers strip off stalks, leaves, debris and any lost ants etc. I recommend you don’t wash your petals as this can strip away the delicate bouquet. For citrus peel and remove as much of the white peel as possible. For nuts remove shells and skins if possible and (with the exception of chestnuts) crush.
- Combine your ingredients in an appropriately sized kilner jar.
- Leave to mingle. For flowers/herbs this is a quick fling, 2 days-2 weeks. For citrus leave for 2-3 weeks. Fruit/nuts and alcohol take longer to get acquainted so you will need to shake daily until sugar is dissolved and then store out of sight and mind for 3–6 months.
- Strain into bottles.
Fruit and nut infusions should be left for a year before drinking, allowing the complexity and depth to develop and the tannins to break down. Flower, plant and citrus infusions thankfully do not carry this agonising wait and can be drunk immediately.
Now you know the basics of production let’s get on to the most important bit, the consumption. Here’s to a damp January!
1. Rhubarb vodka
The best of all merchandise…rubies, diamonds, pearls, and rhubarb
-Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, medieval traveller, writer and lover of edible stalks.
The Rhubarb for this batch of alcohol was generously donated by my Grandmother. Thanks Grandma!
The taste: Sooo good. It has that fresh almost vegetal flavour of stewed fruit. A gorgeously clean tasting springtime spirit. I can just imagine pouring it over tonic and ice and sipping amid the long grass of a flowery meadow.
The verdict: I’m with Ruy on this one 8/10
Cocktail suggestion: Rhubarb triangle
2. Haw gin
I’m not going to lie, the appearance is not encouraging. The skin of the berries disintegrated to form an unpleasant crusty sediment which double filtering did not remove.
The taste: Meh
The verdict: Average at best 5/10
Cocktail suggestion: Ignore the haw gin and make yourself a vieux carre, the best cocktail known to man.
3. Gingerbread liqueur
There is something comforting and nostalgic about the spicy snap of a gingerbread biscuit. Throw alcohol into the mix and what better way could there be to stave off the misery of a grey British winter? I added treacle to this batch to try recreating that malty flavour of childhood snacking.
The taste: Oh the burn, the burn! It’s boxing day in a cocktail; christmas spice meets acid reflux.
The verdict: I think ginger works better as a wine flavour. It’s rather too fiery to be paired with the harshness of a neat spirit. It is also somewhat soupy so I wouldn’t want to add more sugar 4/10.
Cocktail suggestion: Penicillin
4. Pomegranate rum
The pomegranate tree not only produces delicious fruit but is also the most salutiferous (health-giving) plant known to man, according to Doctor Fothergill, 18th century botanist and man with an epic vocabulary. That makes this rum medicinal right?
The taste: Oh wow. A glorious tang is breaking on mt tongue, followed by a wave of fruity sweetness. The whole taste is finished off with a ripple of citrus and exotic spice.
The verdict: I can see myself drinking this rather quickly. Thank heavens it’s salutiferous. 9/10
5. Taste of December 2nd
The Great Christmas Bake of December 2nd in becoming something of annual event amongst my family. This year in addition to the usual mincemeat, puddings and cake I also created this liqueur, to commemorate the weekend. It combines chopped apricots with rose petals and lavender from my parents garden and an elderly bottle of gin from their cellar. Here’s to memories in a bottle.
The taste: Yeesh! Apricots what did I ever do to you?! I feel like I just swallowed phlegm. This drink is just the worst. I probably should have checked just how old that gin was…
The verdict: December the 2nd; Great day, diabolical drink. 2/10
Cocktail suggestion: Discard this abomination and make yourself another vieux carre.
6. Cherry brandy
This titan of the drinks cabinet is one of the most commonly attempted homemade infusions. It is an essential component of such fantastic cocktails as the Vanderbilt, Singapore Sling and Remember the Maine. Next time you are out for drinks I highly recommend you annoy the bartender by ignoring the menu and ordering one of the above.
The taste: It has a friendly, fruity flavour complimented by the winey richness of the brandy. If I have a criticism it would be the lack of complexity. Hopefully as the spirit matures its taste will develop and deepen (just like mine obviously).
The verdict: I reckon it needs another year. 7/10
Cocktail suggestion: In addition to those mentioned previously Blood and Sand is a good shout.
7. Green walnut grappa
Walnut trees are disappointing entities. They take 20 years to reach maturity, produce fruit only sporadically and secrete an unpleasant diarhhea-coloured dye which permanently stains your hands. Humanity would never have bothered to cultivate them if the nuts weren’t so darn delicious. I was lucky enough to stumble across three wild trees just up the road from work which were absolutely laden with green nuts. I harvested enough to produce an underwhelming pickle and this drink, verdict TBD.
The taste: A hug in a shot glass. Nutty. Great.
The verdict: Walnot for sharing, this one is alllll mine 8/10.
Cocktail suggestion: Best drunk straight over ice.