October 1, 2021
It was, say two months ago, basil season (I take it to be late August, though your basil-ing may vary), which is a fragrant green season indeed. Usually, one thinks: basil, an herb, used in cooking, see pesto, etc. However, I (and maybe others, too) also think: basil, an herb, used in making liqueurs and other drinkables, see Basil Grappa, etc. I first made Basil Grappa way back in the halcyon days of writing a book called Luscious Liqueurs (I originally saw the idea in a small Italian language pamphlet of liqueurs, and then tweaked it up a tiny bit), and it’s featured in said book, and I’ve been making it fairly regularly ever since – including this very year! It’s a straightforward recipe, just basil, grappa, simple syrup, and a little lemon juice for balance, and one that’s a little less sweet than some liqueurs. Why? Cause while I love the basil, I still wanted to let the grappa shine through, and not have its grappa-ness (that lovely grape-ness, vineyard-ness, and wine’s-older-brother-ness) completely smoothed away. This liqueur is, for those grappa neophytes, an easy path into the world of grappa by the way, grappa being a spirit that is mostly misunderstood here in the US, but one also that has many varieties (as many as wine itself, I suppose). While not always super available here (if you are US-based, that is), I’m finding more grappas around, but if you can’t track down a bottle, hound your local liquor store until they bring some in!
Basil Grappa Liqueur
1-1/2 cups fresh basil
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
3 cups grappa
1/2 cup simple syrup
1. Add the basil and lemon juice to a large glass container. Using a muddler or wooden spoon, muddle them together cozily.
2. Add the grappa to the container, and stir well. Put it in a cool dry place, and let everything get acquainted for two weeks, swirling occasionally.
3. Add the simple syrup to the container, stir, and put back in that cool, dry place, once again, swirling.
4. Strain the Basil Grappa. I’d suggest once through a fine mesh strainer, then through cheesecloth – into a glass bottle, or a number of small bottles if you’d like to share (sharing is nice)!
October 2, 2020
Here’s a fine kettle of various ingredients mixed with booze. I had the mad/smart/odd/random/bored/inventive/normal idea not more than a couple weeks ago that I should make up a wine-based liqueur or aperitivo if you like (I like, so I’m gonna call it that), and that it should have basil in it (cause my basil plants were doing so well then, if, admittedly, not as well now as summer has dwindled), and maybe orange (cause I had an orange), and a roasted peach (which also was around and needed to be used, sans pit, but the roasting felt important), and some spices but not too many, and a hint of bitterness cause the best aperitivos (or many of them) tend to have that, and it should be pretty as that hour on a sunny late-summer day when night is nearly there, but not quite there, the hour you realize once again that summer and all things are transient, ephemeral, lovely. Whew, seems like a lot to ask of something made in a big glass jar!
But, you know, it worked out quite well. Not sure I reached the full heights I wanted, but came close-ish, to my taste, which might be different than yours. The basil is the strangest part of the equation, as it lost some of its, well, basil-ness if that makes sense. There’s not overriding basil smell or taste, or any, or very little; instead, it adds a slightly vegetal minty-ness. Interesting! The orange notes come through strong, with a little other citrus (thanks to lemon) and a dream of toasty peach, and the spice notes (tiny bits of ginger, star anise) are more inferred than active, if that makes sense. Oh, I should have started with: the wine I used as the base was an Orvieto Classico white wine, which I love, and which is dry-ish, but fruit-y-ish (more peach notes here), and grape-ish enough to bring a lot of flavor. I also added some vodka, as the wine solo didn’t seem to have enough umph for the end-of-summer delicate sadness I wanted. Sure, I’m weird! Gentian, the bittering agent of choice for so many things, underlines that thought, as well as balancing the sweetness. Really, all joshing and flighty language aside, Caducitivo (caduco in Italian meaning transient or ephemeral) was an awfully fun, and tasty, experiment, a fine pre-dinner, sipper, with a layered, light, orange-citrus-herb flavor containing a friendly bitter back end. Heck, I think I’ll make it again next year! And, with the below recipe, you can try it, too. I like sipping it at room temp, but think it’s best over ice, or chilled a bit. While I haven’t tried it yet, my guess is it’d be great with Prosecco, and also as a cocktail ingredient.
2 cups basil
1 roasted peach (see Note)
1 whole star anise
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 wide orange twists
2 wide lemon twists
2-1/2 cups Orvieto Classico (I used Ruffino, which is nice, solid, and not overly pricey)
1/2 cup vodka (I used Prairie Organic vodka, which is swell and came in the mail)
1 cup simple syrup
1/4 teaspoon crushed gentian
1. Add the basil, peach, star anise, ginger, and citrus twists to a large glass container with a good lid. Muddle nicely. Add the wine and vodka, stir, and put that lid on it. Store in a cool dark place away from the sun. Let sit two weeks, swirling occasionally.
2. Open it back up, add the simple syrup and gentian (see Second Note), and stir well. Place it back in the cool dark place, and let sit two more weeks, swirling occasionally.
3. Strain – I went once through a decent fine strainer to get the fruit out, and then through cheesecloth to add more clarity. You might need a third straining, too.
A Note: For the peach, I just baked it at 425 F until it was slightly roasted, not charred. Also, I didn’t use the pit, just the peach itself.
A Second Note: You could add this in Step 1, but I had unexpectedly ran out, so couldn’t. And there’s something (probably nothing) in adding that bittering agent later, letting the other ingredients meet up first.
May 17, 2019
Okay, don’t be upset, but this drink (which is delicious, a smidge sweet, a hint botanical, a miniscule citrus-y, fragrant, all that) uses a homemade ingredient which I’m not providing the recipe for. Because I sorta forgot it! See, I was making some basil-lemon simple syrup as one does, but I didn’t actually write down exactly how much basil I used. It was let’s say a decent-sized bunch and a half. And I didn’t write down the exact amount of lemon juice used, but let’s say it was the juice of half a lemon. Can that get you there if you add it to a regular simple syrup recipe that delivers like three cups or thereabouts of syrup? I think it can (don’t forget to let it seep awhile and strain the basil out and all that)! If you are brave, and resourceful, and heroic, which you, I believe, are!
And it’s one wonderful syrup, which here goes wonderfully with gin. I used Sipsmith London Dry gin, which I like lots, and not just cause of the cool swan art on the bottle. But also cause of the lovely juniper, lemon citrus, and orange marmalade, dry-ish profile. It’s a yummy gin if you haven’t had it. And, speaking of yummy, our third ingredient here is Carpano Bianco vermouth, a light, wine-citrus-mineral-fruit treat that should be a part of any respectable set of liquor shelves. Altogether, this drink delivers in a manner ideal for a spring day or summer evening – now you just need to be a little heroic and make it.
Within the Week
2 ounces Sipsmith London Dry gin
1/2 ounce Carpano Bianco vermouth
1/2 ounce basil-lemon simple syrup
Basil leaf, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add everything but the leaf (beleaf it!). Shake well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass, and now add the leaf. Leaf it up!
June 29, 2018
This should be your go-to this summer (or one of them, at least), as it’ll transport you all over Europe without you having to leave the yard, while at the same time serving as a cool cooler, just as you want when the temps are tempting the higher digits. It was created by an old pal and bartending legend, Jeremy Sidener (who owns the Eighth Street Taproom in Lawrence, KS), who was genius enough to bring together the herbally Italian amaro Averna (which is about in the middle of the bitter scale when looking over the amaro family) and French herb-y Bénédictine, along with cherry brandy, lemon juice, and soda. I myself said in Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz that “the result will break any hold a dusty, hot summer’s day has on you.”
The Sicilian Sling
1-1/2 ounces Averna
1/2 ounce cherry brandy
1/2 ounce Bénédictine
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
Chilled club soda
1 or 2 fresh basil leaves, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the Averna, cherry brandy, Bénédictine, and lemon juice. Shake well.
2. Fill a highball glass three-quarters full with ice cubes. Strain the mixture into the glass. Top with chilled club soda, filling it almost to the top. Gently smack the basil leaf or leaves and let them rest on the drink’s top.
July 28, 2009
Not too too long ago (I mean, I am a bit tardy on this, but not, say, a year behind, or even three months, and if we didn’t have the interweb and the telephone and whatnots, and communication came via Pony Express, I’d be totally on time), pal Becca from the tasty Key Notes with Becca was talking up her newly planted basil in a post, and thinking about all the dishes she might make with it, and generally giving a big “yay!” at the thought of fresh basil. A sentiment I second. But (and you knew that “but” was heading your way), none of her ideas had anything to do with a basil drink. Which is a shame, cause she’s a boozehound. No, no, I kid. She’s not hitting the bottle at the break of day, but neither is opposed to a nice cocktail and, knowing this, I said we should try to come up with basil drinks. Which leads to Tareva’s Tipple.
A friendly mystical kind of a mix (when you remember that basil has had a few theoretical–as far as I know–mystic connotations in the past), Tareva’s Tipple is good for a summer’s evening when you’re sitting on the deck reading a few issues of your favorite comic (and yeah, you have one, even if you don’t admit it) with the pups frolicking around you. It probably shouldn’t be too hot, cause there’s some muddling during the making and you don’t want to sweat. And you probably shouldn’t be planning on driving to the drive-in after having three of these, because there’s a double-delicious-whammy of sorts, due to the combo of gin and grappa (balanced out in the grand scheme of things by the basil and a bit of simple syrup). I used Aviation gin cause its floral notes play well with the basil, and Soft Tail Reserve grappa because it’s got that get-up-and-get-at-it underlying umph as well as some plays-well-with-others flavorings. The end result might not actually be a potion, but might leave you spellbound (if I can wax magically for a moment). Fresh basil’s the key, naturally, and best if just plucked before using.
6 or 7 fresh basil leaves, plus one for garnish
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce grappa
1. Add all the basil leaves minus that last one and the simple syrup to a cocktail shaker. Using a muddler, muddle well.
2. Fill the shaker halfway full with ice cubes, and then add the gin and grappa. Shake well.
3. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with the remaining basil leaf. Enjoy.
A Note: Wife Nat thought I used a bit too much grappa, when I was using 1 full ounce, so I scaled it back. But you can scale it up if you’re feeling frisky.
PS: If anyone can tell me right now without using the Googler who “Tareva” was, in decent detail, then I will buy you a drink that can cost up to $15. So, a fancy-pants drink.
PPS: If anyone can tell me after using the Googler who “Tareva” was, I still might buy you a drink, but not if you’ve consulted this guy, who would obviously know. And yeah, that’s a serious hint.