If your New Year’s Eve plans were lackluster this year, why not add a little pizzazz to 2014 by making your own liqueurs or infused spirits? It’s much easier than you might expect, thanks to Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits by Andrew Schloss (Storey Publishing, November).
Learn the basics. Whether you are a DIY expert looking to branch off into artisanal foods, or someone who considers a dash of glitter to be the height of craftiness, this project is perfect for you. The introductory pages of the book provide all the information you need to get started, including some basic definitions, an explanation of how flavors develop, and a clear list (and photograph!) of all the equipment you will need.
I was surprised to learn, for example, that liqueur is not just a snooty way to talk about booze, but is in fact a precise term for drinks comprised of liquor (otherwise known as distilled spirits), flavoring, and sugar. Examples from the book include Poached Pear, Radicchio Campari, and Orange Rosemary. Infused spirits, on the other hand, such as the Cucumber Gin or Horseradish Schnapps, contain liquor and flavoring, but little or no sugar.
Now that you understand what we’re talking about, let’s go back for a moment to that handy list of equipment I mentioned earlier. This is the part of most DIY projects that stops me cold, as I have no interest in spending a fortune on cooking tools or crafting supplies that will get used once and then languish in the back of my cabinet. If you’re like me, fear not: you likely already own everything on the list, which includes a few glass jars, a wide mouth funnel, and some strainers.
Plan ahead. While the liqueurs and infused spirits in the book are relatively quick to put together, it does take some time (in some cases up to two weeks) for the flavors to develop before they’re ready to be strained and served. Which means, of course, that if you’re reading this article thinking you’ve come up with a brilliant birthday gift for that special someone whose birthday just happens to be this weekend, you might be a bit too late. You can always wrap up some photos of your soon-to-be-delicious booze with an I.O.U. Or, get a head start on Valentine’s Day.
Choose a theme. This book contains a lot of recipes, and as a result may seem just a bit overwhelming at first glance. There are recipes for a variety of fruit liqueurs; vegetable liqueurs; herb & spice liqueurs; nut & seed liqueurs; floral liqueurs; coffee, tea & chocolate liqueurs; creamy liqueurs; caramel, syrup & butterscotch liqueurs; and finally infused spirits. My advice is to skim the handy lists of recipes included at the start of each section with a theme in mind, and choose a handful of recipes accordingly. For example, if all your upcoming dinner party guests are coupled off (or if you’re trying to play match maker) consider serving Aphrodite (gin), Coconut Date (rum), Strawberry Tart (vodka), and Tannin Teaser (vodka). Or, if you and your guests are fans of bourbons of whiskey, consider a sampler of Smoky Bacon Bourbon, Minted Bourbon, Tippling Brown Sugar, and Caramel Candy. You really can’t go wrong with your selections, so if the idea of a theme seems a bit too contrived to you, just choose a couple of recipes that sound tasty!
Impress your guests with at least one copycat recipe. While the majority of the recipes in the book are original, there are also a handful of copycat recipes, such as Lemon Drop (Limoncello), Lots of Licorice (Ouzo), and Double Shot (Kahlua). You might consider keeping your new hobby a secret until after your guests have tasted one of these copycats. Then, of course, you should tell them that you made it and rightfully bask in the glow of their adoration.
Showcase your new spirits in fun cocktails. In addition to the menu recipes for infused spirits and liqueurs, the book also includes a lengthy section of cocktail recipes you can follow to highlight your creations. If you made the Caramel Candy, consider the Glazed Wild Turkey, which combines the bourbon liqueur with Wild Turkey and bitters. And the Coconut Date can be combined with Dark and Stormy Pineapple and a splash of grenadine to make a Coconut Mai Tai.
These homemade liqueurs and infused spirits generally keep for about a year, so you’ll be able to continue to enjoy your creations long after the winter snow melts!
Book cover: Storey Publishing
Other photos: A. Schloss, http://www.schlosscooks.com/search/label/Homemade%20Liqueurs