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)!
July 2, 2021
Those, like you, who have been reading this blog for the last 10 years know that I have a white currant bush that I’m a tad bit obsessed with, and which I usually use the fruit from to make a white currant liqueur called Current Currant, which is darn delicious, and then also last year made a white currant and mint liqueur called A Most Particular Friend. See, the currant bush is now large enough that it has fruit usually for two batches or so of liqueur, unless making a very big batch (it can be devilish tricky to pick the currants, as they tend to fall off easily, and bounce around, and are fairly small for one with thick old fingers, but it’s worth it, I feel, to get that white currant taste, which is a bright citrus-y June-y taste all its own). Recently, I actually picked the first round of currants, as not all the little balls of joy ripen at the same moment; hence the first round being ready, well, first. Anywho, I wasn’t sure what to do with them, as I didn’t think there were enough for Current Currant, and so I decided to try something new – strawberries and currants (I had some strawberries around)! Check them out:
The sweetness and summer-ness of strawberries felt a good match for the tangy burst (with the barest hint here and there of bitterness) currants deliver. And, this time, I was right! The final liqueur-ing has the kissy nature of a good strawberry (I doubled down on the strawberry-ing by making a strawberry simple as our sweetener), but then the above the cloud citrus notes of the currants lingering. Dare I say, it’s summer in a glass? I dare, I dare!
Strawcurranterry, Strawberry and White Currant Liqueur
1/2 cup white currants
2 cups chopped strawberries
3 cups vodka
2 cups sugar
2 cups chopped strawberries
2 cups water
1. Add the currants and first back of strawberries (2 cups) to a large glass container with a good lid. Muddle nicely. Add the 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. Add the sugar and second batch (2 cups) of strawberries to a medium-sized saucepan. Muddle briefly, mellowly. Add the water to the pan. Raise the temperature to medium high and heat to a boil, stirring regularly. Reduce the heat a touch, and let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes, stirring here and there. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
3. Open the jar from Step 1 back up, add the simple syrup, strawberries and all, to the jar, and stir well. Place it back in the cool dark place, and let sit two more weeks, swirling occasionally.
4. 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.
May 21, 2021
Friends, my friends, make the cocktail bar (and the world) go round. Exhibit A: recently, and good pal of mine had an extra helpful or two of bitter oranges, the big, sometimes gnarly-skinned, oranges that live up the bitter name, and which are used in making a number of things, medicinal to marmalade-y to booze-y. She made it all, and still gave my wife and I some leftover oranges, mostly to make Vin d’Orange (the French-styled wine-based aperitif; we used, as did said pal, the recipe from Bon Appetit, or slight variations thereof). But I had a few of the ol’ bitter oranges left over, and decided I should try to make another sipper with them. Now, here’s where the friend quotient jumps to another level, as another good pal had in the past given me some swell fennel seeds they’d harvested. Sadly, this second friend, passed away recently, far too soon, which makes every sip of the below a tribute, as well as a way to remember. Drinks aren’t always for bubbly laughter, but sometimes for different types of celebration, the celebration of a friend or family-member much-loved, but now gone, in this case. Fennel and orange deliver a wonderful slightly bitter, slightly citrus-y, slightly herbal-y, layered homemade liqueur, which, if you can find the ingredients, is well worth making and drinking while you remember, tell stories, think of friends old and new. You’re a friend, too, after all, too. And don’t forget to hug your friends between sips, as you never know when they’ll be gone.
Fair Nature Bitter Orange and Fennel Liqueur
Peels of four bitter oranges
1/8 cup juice from a bitter orange
1/4 cup fennel seeds, plus 1 tablespoon
2-1/2 cups vodka
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1. Add the orange peel, juice, and 1 tablespoon fennel seeds in a large glass container with a good lid. Muddle all the above well, friendly-like. Add the vodka, stir, put that lid on, and place container in a cool, shady, place. Let sit for two weeks, swirling occasionally.
2. Add the sugar, water, and remaining fennel seeds to a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a low boil, stirring regularly, and let simmer for five minutes. Let cool completely, and then add all to the container in Step 1. Stir well. Let sit for two more weeks, swirling.
3. Strain through cheesecloth into a pitcher, and then strain again through another layer into a glass bottle (I like the flip-top types). Serve neat, over ice, or try it out in cocktails.
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.
December 14, 2012
As the holidays approach like a sleigh driven by a tipsy elf, I find it’s good to have A: an easy-but-tasty homemade present ready to whip together as needed for a last minute gift and B: a delicious crafted and crafty sipper to whip together as needed for offices parties, friend parties, family parties, and tête-à-tête parties. This recipe for Chocolate Cream Liqueur, from Luscious Liqueurs, hits both A and B in the above equation, is memorable enough to make year after year, and doesn’t take more time than wrapping most gifts. So, as usual, I suggest giving the gift of booze this year – and homemade booze adds an even special-er touch.
Chocolate Cream Liqueur
Makes 2-1/2 pints
2 cups dark rum
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chocolate syrup
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1. Put all of the ingredients in order (you want the rum to take the first plunge, to convince the other ingredients everything is okay) to a sturdy blender. Blend on high for 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth and well-combined.
2. Pour the liqueur into 1 large bottle or a number of small bottles or jars with tight-fitting lids. Seal and refrigerate. You can serve this right away, and please consume within 2 weeks.
A Note: I suggest shaking the bottle in a serious manner before serving (unless you’re serving right after making it) to assure that no settling has occurred.