Stone Fruit Liqueur

June 13, 2011

I love fruit; walking through the produce aisle at the grocery store, I’m as excited as a kid in a candy store.  Of course, the hazard of this is that I tend to buy more than I end up eating.  So what to do with the random bits and pieces that go past their prime?

A little over a year ago, I ran across a strange little recipe for “bachelor’s jam” in the liqueur section of an ancient canning book.  It consisted of random fruits tossed in sugar and vodka and left to sit for about half a year.  So, last year I decided to try it out.  Sure enough, the result was a rather jam-like mess of colorless, toothless fruit and a murky brownish-pinkish liquid.  The recipe did not call for straining, but the thought of even touching the dead fruit made me a bit queasy.  I strained it, and out came an intriguing tourmaline colored liqueur that captures that juicy freshness of summer fruits.

It debuted at Thanksgiving dinner last fall and was a big hit as a simple after-dinner sipper, so now I’m making it again for Christmas gifts for those friends who love alcohol, but don’t make cocktails.  Sadly, my first batch was unrecorded, so I’m starting from scratch again.

Here are the basic guidelines:

Stone Fruit Liqueur

Use summer stone fruits and berries such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, and cherries (even blueberries or pears are good in limited quantities).

Anything that is not entirely spoiled is fair game – a little too squashy to eat, but not brown or moldy?  Trim as needed and toss it in with the appropriate quantities of sugar and vodka.

Feel free to leave the pits in – they provide depth and subtlety.  I just cut the fruit around the circumference so that the soft flesh is more accessible.

Add 1/3 to 1/2 of the fruit weight in sugar.  Today, I added about 15 ounces of fruit, so I put in half a cup of sugar (4 ounces).  This is a little less than a third, but I’ll sweeten the next addition a little more to make up for it.  Make sure not to oversweeten, as you can always add more sugar after straining out the fruit, but you can’t remove it once it’s in there.

Add enough vodka to cover the fruit.  I am actually using Everclear 151 with water in a 2:1 ratio this time since the first batch came out incredibly smooth and flavorful – cheap vodka or Everclear will not affect the quality noticeably.

Allow the fruit to age several months in a cool dark place.  My first batch was aged about seven and a half months from start – probably three or four months after the last addition.  I intend to fill the jar shown on the right all the way to the top in the next month or so, and then let it sit in my closet until November or December.

When it’s thoroughly aged and looks absolutely vile, it’s time to strain.  This is not a fun process, as all the vodka and sugar pull out the natural pectins in the fruit and create a highly viscous fluid.  I would actually recommend several rounds of straining, as it took 2 days to strain through coffee filter paper last year.  My intention this year is to do an initial filter with a medium-fine mesh strainer and use a potato ricer to squeeze any liquid out of the fruit.  After that, I will pass it through cheesecloth to grab most of the pectin, and then do a final slow drip through the coffee filter paper.  There will still be some cloudy material, but this is hard to avoid since we’re adding most (if not all) of the sugar prior to straining.  I feel that it isn’t enough to affect the longevity, flavor, or attractiveness of the final liqueur.

If necessary, add a bit more sugar, and allow the flavors to blend for another week or so.

Calculating the Alcohol Volume:

As I am a bit of a numbers geek, it seems appropriate to determine the proof of the final product.  It is quite simple to get a reasonably accurate number for a liqueur like this.  Simply measure the liquid quantity after straining and adding any final sweetening.  This is your yield.  Now add up how many ounces of vodka you used.  Your alcohol by volume is your vodka a.b.v. (typically 40%) * ounces of vodka / ounces of yield.

Example:  My current jar contains 20 oz 151 Everclear, 10 oz water, and 12 oz sugar.  Assuming I get about the same yield as the current liquid quantity, I will have 20 + 10 + 12/2 = 36 oz.  (Note: the sugar dissolves into the liquid and increases the liquid volume by about half of the sugar volume.)  Of that, 20 oz is 151 proof (75.5% a.b.v.).  So the alcohol by volume is 75.5% * 20/36 = 41.9%.  Obviously, I will need to add more sugar or water, unless I’m looking for a whopper of a liqueur here.  Typically liqueurs are between 15% and 30%, with the exception of a few like Chartreuse.

I would consider this a great beginner’s liqueur, as it has a lot of freedom to it and requires little effort to make.  It is something that can be drunk chilled on its own or in cocktails (try adding a splash of Ramazzotti to a slug of it in soda), much like limoncello.  Best of all, the batch can be any size you want, and you don’t have to buy a ton of materials for it.  (Ever been interrogated by a cashier about the five pounds of lemons in your cart?  I have.)  And of course, the process is not much different for any single fruit liqueur.

Stocking a Liquor Cabinet

October 5, 2010

I claim to be no expert on this, as I’m still learning the best liquors to buy on a budget, but as many friends refer to me for suggestions, this may make life a bit easier on everyone.  Many of my suggestions come straight from bartenders and/or observation at quality cocktail joints – usually their well liquors are surprisingly affordable.  Any prices I list are approximate and only for the state of Washington, which is considerably more expensive than many other states.  If you have any other recommendations, please comment below!

Vodka:

  • Luksusowa – $18 – surprisingly smooth for the price point, and much nicer than its compatriots under $25.  Mineral notes with hints of citrus, as opposed to heavier citrus or spice notes of many vodkas
  • Stolichnaya – $25 – I started on this one, and it is still my second choice on cheap vodkas, as it is readily available, and drinks easier than the rubbing alcohol that is Skyy

Gin:

  • Gordon’s – $20 – a bit rough, but a solid London Dry that can stand in nicely for gins like Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, and Tanqueray
  • Beefeater – $22 – a nice London Dry with floral notes, not quite as intense as Tanqueray, but easy to incorporate in many drinks
  • Plymouth – $30 – a gin in its own category, with subtler juniper notes and a mineral taste to it – a great way for new gin drinkers to start (and a lot cheaper than Hendrick’s) – it can also fill in for London Dry quite frequently

Rum:

Yeah…I got nothing here.  I still pay primo for rums, mostly because I find myself needing some particular variety of rum, and I haven’t observed a whole lot of well rums.  I’ll get back to this at a later date.

Tequila:

  • El Jimador Reposado – $22 – a good, basic, brawny reposado.  It may not be a blanco, but it will still work well in many cocktails
  • El Conquistador Blanco – $37 – not dirt cheap, but an incredibly delicate blanco at a mid-range price

Still making observations on this one too.  I don’t get through tequila fast enough to compare a whole lot.

Bourbon:

  • Buffalo Trace – $28 – a nice peppery, deep bourbon, with a heavy rye influence

I haven’t really explored a whole lot of affordable bourbons yet…more to come as I attempt to appreciate more bourbon.

Rye:

  • Rittenhouse 100 – $22 – incredible peppery taste with lots of depth
  • Wild Turkey 101 – $24 – not quite as intense as the Rittenhouse, this does have a more stable supply and is still an excellent bonded rye
  • Pikesville – $17

Other Whiskey:

  • George Dickel No. 8 – $20 – a nice American whiskey – catches the sweetness of the corn without being cloying or shallow
  • Chivas Regal 12 – $36 – a basic blended scotch that will do for most cocktails, and isn’t bad straight either
  • Glenlivet 12 – $40 – I consider this the starter’s single-malt
  • Yamazaki 12 – $49 – this is my easy-drinking single-malt.  More character than Glenlivet, but not yet paying for the massive peat of an Islay

Brandy:

  • Korbel XS – $17 – captures the fruit very well, with a vanilla finish – a little overdone, but fine for most cocktails
  • Paul Masson VSOP – $20 – a spicier brandy with less fruit, but still quite acceptable for mixing, and closer to sipping quality
  • Hennessy VSOP – $47(?) – if you must have cognac, skip over the Remy Martin and go for this one.  The extra couple bucks are worth it.