SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

December 4, 2012

Make “gift” liqueurs

(Once again, in honor of the Christmas season and your assumed creative urges, and, that you have time for such things – - this looks like a wonderful idea.  Could be just for you, forget the gifts.  You’re worth it !    Jan)

GARDENING

Homemade liqueurs infuse holidays with herbal cheer

By Denise Trowbridge FOR THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

GAYLA TRAIL    Herb- or fruit-infused alcohols make delicious gifts.

If you’re planning to give the gift of alcohol this Christmas, consider adding a touch of the garden beforehand. Vodka and gin can be infused with herbs and fruit, transforming them into a delicious, personal, one-of-a-kind gift.

It’s easy, even for beginners, said Brooke Sackenheim, recreation director with the Herb Education Center in Gahanna.

“It’s a big tradition in the herb community,” she said. “A lot of herbalists start making cordials in (fall) and winter.”

  • Creating infused alcohol at home isn’t complicated.

“The method is so simple, there’s almost no method,” said Gayla Trail, author of Easy Growing and Drinking the Summer Garden (Fluff, $19.99). “You take herbs or fruit, put it in the bottle, add alcohol and you’re done. You just need to commit to checking on it regularly to see how it tastes.”

Herb and fruit infusions work best in alcohols that are at least 80 proof, such as vodka, gin, white rum or eau de vie.   Dark rum and whiskey also work but have a stronger flavor in their own right. Vodka’s advantage is that it easily takes on the flavor of the herbs.

With herbs, the infusing process can take one day to one week; with fruit, it’s longer — sometimes up to several months. At the end of the infusing period, strain the herbs or fruit out of the alcohol using a sieve or cheesecloth, then re-bottle the liqueur in a sterilized jar such as a decorative mason jar.

Check the flavor frequently while it’s brewing.

  • “If left too long, herbs can quickly turn bitter,” Trail said. “It can go from good to bad in one day.”

You can use fresh or dried herbs and fruit. But when using dried, use about half as much in each bottle.

The simplest method is to use regular tea bags to infuse vodka, Sackenheim said.

“You can use black or green tea, or a fruit flavor like pomegranate and peach. Put one or two bags in a (750 ml) bottle, then let it infuse for up to two days. Then take out the tea bags and you’re done.”

If you want to kick it up a level, try one of these recipes.

• Create a lemon balm liqueur by adding three cups of fresh lemon-balm leaves, the zest of 12 lemons and 1 cup of sugar to a 750 ml bottle of an alcohol such as vodka. Cap it, shake the bottle every few days, and between two weeks and one month later, shake it, strain it and rebottle it as a gift.

“It tastes like sunshine in a bottle,” Sackenheim said.

• Make a delicately flavored rose-petal liqueur by filling a mason jar with rose petals, then covering them completely with vodka or gin, Trail suggests. Or make a homemade creme de menthe that far exceeds the thick green versions sold in stores. Completely fill a mason jar with mint leaves and cover with vodka.

“Try making it with chocolate mint leaves for extra flavor,” Trail said.

• For bloody mary fans, tasty options abound. Make a spicy basil vodka infused with about 1 cup of chopped fresh basil leaves per 750 ml bottle, two garlic cloves or four garlic chives leaves, and one hot pepper. Steep for one day, then check the flavor daily, Trail said. Vodka can also be infused with peppercorns or coriander seeds.

• For a tropical holiday drink, try infusing 1 cup of dried hibiscus flowers in white rum.

“The flowers turn the rum bright red,” Trail said.

  • Use edible tropical hibiscus flowers rather than their hardy cousins that grow here. Tropical varieties can often be found in ethnic markets in winter.

• Infusing liquor with fruit takes more time, but the rewards are no less sweet. Bourbon or eau de vie brandy infused with cherries or raspberries is simple and delicious. Sterilize a pint or quart-sized mason jar, then wash the fruit and dry it. Add 1 cup of fruit to the jar and fill with alcohol to about three-quarters of the way full. Add a half-cup of granulated sugar, then fill the jar the rest of the way with alcohol. Shake until the sugar dissolves and leave in a warm, dark place to infuse for about a month, regularly checking the flavor. Raspberries in eau de vie is akin to “a homemade substitution for framboise. It’s like drinking liquid raspberries,” Trail said.

• Another stellar fruit combination is strawberry and basil in vodka.

“I use half a cup to a cup of each in each (750 ml) bottle, and because it’s a soft fruit, I didn’t have to leave it in long,” Trail said.

• Another excellent flavor combination is dark rum with cloves, cinnamon and elderberry.

“It’s darker with spice and a little bit of berry,” Sackenheim said.

To package your creations as sleek gifts, use a decorative container such as a quilted mason jar or a wire-topped bottle from a home-brewing supply shop. Decorate with a label or tag. Trail has free label templates at http://www.easy-  growing.com/down  loads.php  .

  • Keep in mind these few keys to success: Sterilize your jars and bottles much as you would before canning — in a hot-water bath — before filling them; and store the infusing and finished liqueurs in a dark, warm place such as a finished basement or a closet.
  • “Make sure you label stuff,” Sackenheim said. “Write on your label what you are using and what date you put it in, so you know when to strain it,” she said. “And make notes,” if you’re serious about perfecting the method.

Denise Trowbridge is a Columbus freelance writer who covers garden topics. cdecker@dispatch.com

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