Making homemade liqueurs is a fast and easy way to bring a special touch to holiday gatherings. It only takes moments to prepare and no special gear is necessary; the hard part is waiting the two to four weeks necessary to allow your liqueur to steep and age.
For many liqueurs you’ll use a vodka base, which basically lacks taste and color and will take on whatever flavor you want. But you can also use spirits like bourbon, brandy, rum or even tequila, which all do their part to enhance the flavor of the fruits and spices you use. The resulting liqueur can be served on its own, or added to other cocktails such as martinis, or eggnog. Here are some recipes:
For all of the recipes, the process is the same; you take your flavorings and sugar, and place them in an earthen crock or a glass jar with a lid. (Make sure the mouth of the container is large enough to remove the flavorings later.) Cover completely with your alcohol, put on the lid, and shake. Store your concoction in a dark place, shaking every day for the first week or so, then leaving it sit for two to four weeks until the flavors are fully incorporated into your alcohol. When the liqueur is done, strain out your flavorings and either place the liqueur back into its original alcohol bottle, or transfer them to pretty glass bottles for holiday display.
Your flavorings can include fruits, nuts, herbs and spices, and as much sugar as you’d like. The amount of sugar you use is a matter of preference depending upon how sweet you’d like your liqueur. I generally start out with about 1/3 cup of sugar for a basic 750 ml bottle of liquor, and add more after the first week if I find the liqueur I’m making isn’t sweet enough for me.
What do you do with those fruits? I reserve the marinated fruits and use them in holiday desserts. Depending upon the fruit, you can chop them up and add them to holiday baking, or make a tasty topping from them. To do this, take your fruit and place in a saucepan. Mash roughly, and add additional sugar and some water if there doesn’t seem to be enough liquid with the fruit. Simmer until the additional sugar is dissolved and a syrup forms around the fruits. Serve over ice cream or holiday cakes.
SECKEL PEAR BRANDY
Seckel pears are small pears about 2″ long. They are very sweet with a nice skin that has a bit of a “snap” to it. They are not common to see (though marinated seckel pears are wonderful heated through and served whole over ice cream or next to cakes), so you can substitute regular pears for this liqueur. For seckel pears, just slice the top and bottom off and place them in your jar or crock. If you’re using regular pears, slice them into sections or chop roughly and add to your container. Some recipes call for peeling the pears first, but I don’t see the need for this since I am lazy. Add your sugar (I start with 1/2 cup and increase later if needed), fill your container with whatever brandy you’d like, and shake. Shake daily for the first week, and at the end of the week taste to see if it is sweet enough for you. If it’s not, you can add more sugar, making sure you shake regularly to dissolve. Store in a dark place while the liqueur is marinating.
VANILLA AND CINNAMON LIQUEUR
Bourbon lends itself to the taste of vanilla and cinnamon. It produces a wonderful sweet liqueur that can be served on its own, and makes a wonderful addition to eggnog. Simply take a bottle of bourbon and pour it into a jar or crock (you can just use the bottle as your marinating vessel, but realize that it might be difficult to remove the expanded cinnamon sticks later). Add a vanilla bean that has been split open and two to three sticks of whole cinnamon. Add your sugar, shake, and wait. Don’t forget to shake daily during that first week to dissolve all of the sugar.
This is a simple but sweet and tasty liqueur that makes a WONDERFUL plum martini for the holidays. For a martini, dilute the liqueur with plain vodka to your taste, and serve with lime zest. To make this liqueur, take plums, slice a sizeable slit or two in each one, place the plums in your container, add sugar, and top with your vodka. Shake and wait. I like to use Italian-style plums for this for their more intense flavor, but you can also use regular plums.
ALMOND AND COFFEE LIQUEUR
This also makes a wonderful addition to a martini, especially a chocolate martini if this is something you want to impress guests with over the holidays. I like this to have a lot of almond flavor, so I roughly grind about 1 cup of almonds in my blender and add about 1/2 cup of whole coffee beans. Top with sugar and a bottle of vodka and shake well. You’ll need to strain this after your month is up to remove all of the almond bits.
This is great because you can use just about any kind of berry for this, or a mix of berries. I like to mix blueberries and blackberries, but you can use whatever kind you want (use about a quart total of berries)! Just slice each fruit in half and put them in your jar or crock. Cover with your sugar and 750 ml bottle of vodka, and shake. Remember to shake daily for the first week to make sure your sugar is dissolved, and intermittently the few weeks following. I like to use a cup of sugar with this recipe, and serve it in cordial glasses with desserts or on its own. Very tasty!