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.

Buttermilk Liqueur

April 24, 2011

Recently I ran across a recipe for milk liqueur. Being intrigued by this as an alternative to cream-based liqueurs such as Baileys, I had to give it a try. However, all I had in the fridge was an excess of buttermilk, so buttermilk liqueur it was. The first batch was disappointing to say the least — poor instructions and too much sugar led to a liqueur that had potential, but was ultimately difficult to use. The second batch, I took charge, and it turned out much better. Here’s the recipe:

Buttermilk Liqueur

  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 cups vodka (I used 8.5 oz Everclear 151 and 7.5 oz water to make a rough 80 proof vodka)
  • 1.5 cups white sugar (or to taste)
Combine the buttermilk and vodka, and age 10 days — no need to refrigerate. Strain out the solids through a coffee filter, then add the sugar. Shake to incorporate the sugar, and allow to sit for a day to finish dissolving any remaining grains. Yields about a fifth of 21% ABV liqueur.

The liqueur is incredibly smooth, with a sweet, milky taste at the tip of the tongue, and an acidic, almost sour finish. The alcohol is excellent at pulling out the essence of the buttermilk, while leaving behind all the fat. The sugar just fills out and smooths the maceration.

So what to make with a buttermilk liqueur? A couple test runs pointed me in the direction of rum; the natural acidic tones made me think of lemon, which would balance out the sweetness and perk it up nicely to pair with a sweet base spirit. The benefit of dairy liqueur is that it can smooth out rougher flavors, so I decided to pull out a favorite — Batavia-Arrack, and go from there.

  • 1.5 oz Batavia-Arrack
  • 1 oz buttermilk liqueur
  • 0.25 oz lemon juice
  • dash of Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters (or other aromatic bitters)
Shake ingredients, then rinse glass with a peaty scotch (I used Lagavulin 16).

This cocktail is citrusy and sweet at the front — the slightly smoky arrack combined with the buttermilk pulls out spice and rose notes, then eases into the peat of the scotch with a smooth transition. This drink is surprisingly subtle, but not boring, and an aftertaste of lemon and smoke is never bad.

Coconut rum

September 29, 2010

I read a lot of cocktail blogs. Most days, this involves slogging through typically unremarkable drink recipes, enthusiastic odes to ridiculous methods, and prompts to buy said book, go to said bar, or sample said liquor.  But every once in a while, there comes inspiration. This one I must fully attribute to Cocktail Virgin Slut, as the mere mention of coconut rum brings to mind Malibu along with consequent shudders of revulsion.  What better reason to make my own though?  And really, what girl can resist the thought of a corked coconut in her closet?

So, as Frederic glossed over the labor involved, I shall go through a play-by-play of my adventure.  First step, of course, was to go buy a coconut and a white rum worth imbuing with coconutty goodness.  I chose Wray and Nephew Overproof, as I love that Jamaican funk and I had to buy some for a batch of falernum anyway.  Next step:  harassing the friend endowed with a drill to loan it to me, with the risk of destroying a drill bit.  And then, after scrubbing all my tools thoroughly, the fun begins!

I made sure to select a man-made cork from my used cork collection – one from a white, so there was no residual stain or scent.  I traced around the cork over one eye of the coconut, where the husk is thinner, then proceeded to drill a series of holes just inside that circle with a 1/8″ bit (remember, better to drill too small and trim than drill too big and leak).  Using a small bit rather than a large one such as 1/2″ or 5/8″ does seem slower, but I am a fan of drilling multiple times over spending a lot of time trimming to fit.  The drilling process is easier if you have a firm support for the coconut – a spare hand or a snugger bowl would have helped me out, and I will make sure to have a better system next time.

Once you have a fair number of holes drilled, drain the coconut water out.  My coconut yielded a little over 8 ounces of water, which I then filtered with a coffee filter to remove any scraps of husk and meat.  I see some delicious cocktails in the near future!

Next, I used a chisel and mallet to break out the center bit of husk left, making sure not to damage the meat as much as possible, since it helps keep scraps out of the nut.  I tidied the edges as much as possible with the chisel and moved on to a utility knife, which allowed me good control whittling away the remaining rough bits.  During all this, I continually checked the cork against the opening to make sure it would be a snug fit.  Finally, when I felt the husk was trimmed sufficiently, I found a knife with a narrow blade and cut out the meat still plugging the hole.  Notice that the hole in the meat is slightly smaller than that in the husk – I plan to rely on the meat to seal up the nut against air.  One last check to make sure all the coconut water is out, a final check on the cork fit, then time for a rinse.

After rinsing all the random scraps out of the nut, it’s time to fill ‘er up.  I first started with the same quantity of water that I dumped out – 8 ounces.  However, it’s a waste to have air space, as I want my rum to be in contact with as much meat as possible and soak up all those delicious oils, so after pouring in the initial cup of rum, I removed the funnel, pulled out a flashlight, and free-poured in 1/2 ounce increments.  Doing this, I fit another 5 1/2 ounces of rum before the level got uncomfortably close to the bottom of the meat at the hole edge.  And now, to cork!

First, I measured the thickness of the husk and the coconut meat and marked it on the cork, so I could be sure that I got the cork in at least the full thickness of the coconut meat.  Then I aligned the cork and pounded it in part way.  Once it is partially in, it becomes easier to push it in by hand, as the meat yields much better to steady pressure.  Some of the liquid soaked into the meat starts to escape a bit around the cork at this point, but have faith, and get it in all the way either by pushing it in, or pounding it in with a mallet.  And here’s the magic – dry up that bit of escaped liquid, turn it upside down, and admire the results – no leakage!  The moisture in the coconut meat helps to seal it up around the cork, so it should be just about set now.  For good measure (and because I hate losing that angel’s share), I wrapped it all up in plastic wrap, with a rubber band right at the cork seal, and another at the circumference to help prevent the seal drying out.  And now, to tuck it in my nice, dark, temperature-stable closet, and wait 6 months!I have decided that, should this experiment work, I will find a friend with a yard that can be dug up annually, and every September 19th we shall all dig up buried treasure, bury more, and carouse with fresh coconut rum in a truly piratical nature.

Forbidden Fruit is one of those obscure, legendary liqueurs that you occasionally hear whispered about.  For me, it was the bottle.  Innocently enough, I was indulging in my love of black and white film, watching Cecil B. DeMille’s “Why Change Your Wife?” when I saw it – that beautiful Chambord-style bottle emblazoned with the name Forbidden Fruit.  Immediately I was struck with a desire to sample it, to feel that illicit pleasure of a temptress stealing a man from his loving wife.  Alas, a quick search proved that such a sample was not to be had.  I left it alone for 6 months, though I encountered the liqueur a few times in fantastically named cocktail recipes (I get a lot of entertainment from looking up cocktails with defunct ingredients on CocktailDB).  Then, whim struck again, and I did a little more research.  And, lo! a recipe posted online!  And someone else made it too!

Of course I had to make this so-called ‘Taboo Liqueur’.*  After several hours of labor and delightful smells wafting from the kitchen, I bottled it up for a week, then spent another hour or so straining, then bottled it up for another 3 weeks.  In the end, I was disappointed.  Mind you, I like grapefruit.  I like honey and brandy too.  Sounds like a fantastic combination.  But the recipe came out sour, bitter, and the component flavors wholly uncooperative.  Partly due to forgetting to add 1 c vodka (or another 1 c brandy), but I don’t think that would wholly fix the problem – just cut it.

So, in the face of less than promising results, I followed the usual routine – ignore it for a week or two, maybe mixing a drink here or there (it mixed fine at least), and come back to it after I’ve done a few other things.  Meanwhile, I was intrigued by the starfruits in the grocery store and decided to use up the remaining skinless half pummelo in my fridge.  I figured the Taboo approach was good, so I tossed the following together:

  • 1 starfruit, sliced
  • flesh of 1/2 pummelo, skin between sections removed
  • 1/6 c honey
  • 1/6 c agave nectar
  • 1/6 c water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 oz brandy (Remy Martin VSOP)

I heated the non-alcoholic ingredients, simmered them about 5 minutes, then added the brandy after it cooled.  I then matured the whole mess for close to two weeks, strained, and voila! a clean, slightly bitter, slightly sweet citrusy liqueur.  Less combative than the Taboo blend, and much more pleasant to drink straight.

During all this waiting, my disappointment lashed out one day, and I jumped online to look for bottles of Forbidden Fruit (to determine the proper color of the liqueur).  And what do I find, but some nice Canadian selling antique glassware on eBay!  Including of course, an old Forbidden Fruit bottle.  After a week of agonizing, and the bottle still up after an auction expired, I notice the “make an offer” button.  And so I did.  For $15, including shipping, that old 375 ml bottle is mine.  And it turns out I got a steal for that $15, as the owner never rinsed out the bottle!  Struggling to open a bottle sealed shut by liquor, sugar, and close to 4 decades, it hisses as it yields, and the cap comes off to release an amazing odor.  Immediately I have the bottle upside down to a cup, agonizing as it makes its molasses-in-January way down the sides of the bottle, while I analyze the odors wafting from the cap.  The few drops in the bottle were clear enough that I didn’t even notice them until I went to clean the sticker remnants off the outside, but the liquid is a faintly yellowed clear syrup.  It tastes bitter and citrusy on the tip of the tongue, but has a honeyed finish.  The brandy is mellow enough to tie the two together well, adding just a hint of spice to the blend.  The liqueur is, above all, subtle.  Not overly sweet, bitter enough to add interest in a cocktail, perfectly balanced.

And surprisingly, closer to my spur-of-the-moment starfruit concoction than Taboo.  I am eager to hunt down another pummelo and start afresh.  The last few drops of Forbidden Fruit are being carefully preserved for future reference and delight.  This will be a joyous (and agonizing) quest.

*  My version of the Taboo Liqueur recipe:

  • peel of 2 pummelos, sliced thinly, as little pith as possible
  • juice of 1 pummelo
  • peel of 1 blood orange, sliced thinly, as little pith as possible
  • juice of 3 blood oranges
  • peel of 1 lemon, sliced thinly, as little pith as possible
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 c honey
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 c brandy (Remy Martin VS)

Heat all ingredients except alcohol together, simmer for 10-12 minutes