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This one’s for Chuck Taggart.
I put up liqueurs just about every year. I go for the simple methods—no fermenting, no distilling. I’d like to try that, but I just don’t have the room and the time for it. So I do the dead simple kind, where you take strong distilled spirits, macerate flavoring materials in them until it be enough, strain the results, and temper it up with honey or sugar syrup. Put it in a good bottle, put a good cork in it, label it before you forget, and put it in the basement until it comes out right.
Yes, those are loose instructions. That’s how I cook.
If you want a dead simple recipe, take the thinly peeled-off zest of citrus fruit (but not blood oranges or pummelos or lavender gems), a leetle pinch of fresh mace or nutmeg, and a whole vanilla bean, and toss them into a bottle of vodka. I prefer Devil’s Springs brand, which is seriously overproof—the East Coast equivalent of Everclear. Wait a couple of weeks. Give it a shake once in a while. Strain, and dose with sugar syrup (2 c. sugar, 1 c. water, heat until it’s syrup). Let age a few months, though you can probably get away with drinking it in a few weeks.
Fruits may or may not have to macerate longer, but they do have to age longer. If you put up blackberry liqueur in blackberry season, it’ll get good just in time to do in everyone at your New Year’s party. Good blackberry liqueur is wicked stuff. The first time I made it, Patrick sampled the first bottle right before New Year’s. “Aw, too bad,” he said. “It tastes great, but all the alcohol has evaporated.”
I tried some myself. It tasted like sweet innocent summer fruit. Then my earlobes got hot. “We have a winner,” I said. We threw a hell of a New Year’s party that year. That was the year that Jerry Kaufman broke our broomstick, and Kathryn Howes and Rebecca Lesses broke one of our chairs while demonstrating wrestling moves, and Joanna Russ got into a whipped-cream fight, and Ole Kvern went home without his shoes when there was snow on the ground. There were bodies all over the carpet next morning.
But I digress.
I have a bottle sitting next to me here that’s labeled “Summer 2000”, since I couldn’t think of a better name for it at the time. The label says it’s made from basil, rose geranium, lemon verbena, the petals of Stanwell Perpetual roses, citrus peel, peppercorns, coriander, honey, quince jelly, vodka, and sugar. That’s not in order by proportion; that’s in order as remembered when writing out the label.
I forget what I had in mind when I made it. I did manage to stump Jon Singer with it. He’s the Man with the Nose, but he couldn’t sort out the overlapping rose petals and rose geranium leaves. It’s sort of in the Benedictine/Chartreuse range, only friendlier. It’s gotten pretty good.
A few weeks back, Patrick came home with a bottle of Jim Beam rye whisky. You don’t see rye too often these days, but I’ve always liked it: a good straightforward whisky-flavored whisky, without the banana/acetone overtones of bourbon or the peat-smoked seaweed taste of scotch. After I’d tasted it a couple of times, the Cocktail Fairy came to me and gave me a recipe:
1 - 2 tbsp. Summer 2000
a double shot of Jim Beam rye
a couple of pinches of fresh mint
lots of ice cubes
Give the mint sprigs a good pinch apiece and put them into highball glasses full of ice cubes. Meanwhile, fill a cocktail shaker with more ice cubes and toss in the spirits. Shake until your hands hurt from the cold. Pour.
There’s something that feels almost virtuous about sitting back with a drink that was made possible by your having put up one of its constituent liqueurs three years ago. But only almost.