It was a chance visit to Demijohn for a few indulgent Christmas stocking fillers that got me thinking, "How hard can it be to make your own fruit liqueurs?" After all, I’d conquered the Ginger Beer, made various other brews in the past, it really shouldn’t be too difficult should it?
After downing a bottle of Demijohn’s Blackcurrant Gin, I was even more determined to find out. And after a little investigation it would seem that the answer is "No, it really isn’t that hard!"
Christmas isn’t exactly the best time of year for fresh fruit, however my freezer was creaking with frozen berries from years gone by. Along with a large quantity of Christmas fruit which we were never going to get through, I decided that an experiment was in order. I was going to attempt a few different combinations in an attempt to turn out a basic recipe for fruit liqueurs which I could use in the future with my fresh berry harvest.
The experiment had a few different variables:-
- Spirit – Vodka or Gin
- Fruit – Red Currant, Black Currant, Gooseberry, Mixed Fruit
- Fruit Condition – Fresh, Frozen whole, Frozen Puree
- Sweetening Process – Steep with Sugar, Dilute with syrup after steeping
I also established a basic formula to follow:-
- 1/3 – 1/2 fill a bottle with fruit (and sugar, if used at this stage)
- Fill bottle with spirit
- Leave in a dark place to steep for 3 months, shaking occasionally
- Strain contents
- Filter contents
- Add Sweetener
- Re-bottle & leave to mature for 1 month
- Sample & tweak sweetening
- Final filtering & bottling if appropriate
So, on 29 December 2009, I set about completing Steps 1, 2 & 3
The following combinations were used to create the batches:
|A1||Red Currant300g frozen||Vodka Smirnoff red label, 37 1/2%||700ml bottle|
|A2||Black Currant300ml frozen puree||Vodka Smirnoff red label, 37 1/2%||100g White Sugar1000ml bottle|
|A3||Black Currant300ml frozen puree||Vodka Smirnoff red label, 37 1/2%||700ml bottle|
|A4||Gooseberry1/2 bottle frozen||Vodka Smirnoff red label, 37 1/2%||1000ml bottle|
|A5||Mixed Berry2/3 Bottle, fresh/frozen||Vodka Smirnoff red label, 37 1/2%||700ml bottle400ml Vodka
Strawberry, Gooseberry, Redcurrant, Blueberry, Black currant juice
|A6||Red Currant300g frozen||London Dry Gin Tesco Finest
|A7||Red Currant300g frozen||London Dry Gin Tesco Finest
|A8||Black Currant600ml frozen puree||London Dry Gin Tesco Finest
|1000ml? pickling jar600ml Gin|
Straining, Initial Filtration & Sweetening, 27 March 2010 :
|Batch||Straining & Filtration||Sweetening||Comments|
|A1||4 layers muslin lined sieve; 2 layer paper towel lined funnel||3 parts syrup: 4 parts spirit||475 ml filtered spirit700 ml bottled to mature
4 star clarity
|A2||4 layers muslin lined sieve; 2 layer paper towel lined funnel||1 parts syrup: 3 parts spirit||750ml filtered spirit1000ml bottled to mature
5 star clarity
less sweet than A3
|A3||4 layers muslin lined sieve; 2 layer paper towel lined funnel||9 parts syrup: 7 parts spirit||450ml filtered spirit750ml bottled to mature
sweeter than A2, much more like a crème de cassis
|A4||4 layers muslin lined sieve; 2 layer paper towel lined funnel||3 parts syrup: 4 parts spirit||675ml filtered spirit1000ml bottled to mature
Aromatic/floral – quite distinctive from the others
|A5||4 layers muslin lined sieve; 2 layer paper towel lined funnel||3 parts syrup: 4 parts spirit||400ml filtered spirit700ml bottled to mature
Very fragrant – strong strawberry aroma
|A6/7||4 layers muslin lined sieve; 2 layer paper towel lined funnel||1 parts syrup: 3 parts spirit||1050ml filtered spirit1350ml bottled to mature
A6 & A7 combined – as no obvious difference
|A8||4 layers muslin lined sieve; 2 layer paper towel lined funnel||1 parts syrup: 3 parts spirit||680ml filtered spirit900ml bottled to mature
(2 * 500ml bottles)
Filtering & Straining
What really amazed me was the clarity obtained after the straining & filtering process, particularly with the pureed black currants, which I was expecting to need some kind of racking off and/or finings to settle out the solids.
For these batches, I’m using a stock syrup as the sweetening agent. However there are plenty of alternatives which pride differing effects. To make a stock syrup, you need to dissolve 2 units (by volume) of sugar into 1 unit of water. This produces around 2.2 units of stock syrup. For the number of bottles I was processing, I used the following:
- 2 * 2 kg bags white granulated sugar
- 1.1 litres boiling water
In a large pan on a gentle heat, dissolve the sugar in the water. Gently bring to the boil for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Once all of the sugar dissolved, remove from the heat and allow to cool before use.
The sweetening gave an opportunity to sample (we’re still recovering…). As there are several ‘similar’ batches, I was keen to make sure that the sweetness provided a degree of distinction. In general, I wanted the citrusiness of the gin based liqueurs to form a basis for less sweet batches, with more of a crème-type effect for the vodka bases. There’s a fine balance to draw though – not enough sugar and the alcohol is just too dominant. Too much and you can’t taste the fruit.
To get the right balance of sweetness, I created a number of samples with differing proportions of syrup:spirit, then used the ratios to scale up for the whole batch.
The original bottles we rinsed and sterilised, then the diluted liqueur poured back and left in a dark place to mature. Amazingly, the proportions of syrup more of less seemed to match the proportions of solids removed from the bottles (more by luck than judgement…), so no need for extra bottles
Next stage – Mature for around 1 month
Sampling! 2 May 2010 :
(out of 20)
|A1||13 1/2||Total clarity, some sediment
Too sweet. General fruitiness does not come through like with the blackcurrant. Would make a syrup for desserts
Needs more fruitiness and/or less sweetness
Consider pureeing fruit and using smaller proportion of syrup
|A2||17 1/2||Total clarity
Wow! K’s favourite. Great balance with an intense raw fruity flavour. Not as sweet as A3
Perfect vodka based liqueur. Interested to understand the impact of using whole fruit on the overall intensity – would this be reduced?
The additional sweetness makes this a different beast to A2. As noted previously, more like a crème de cassis. Almost as good, but different
For a sweeter Cassis, this is great – no changes required
|A4||15 1/2||Total clarity, some sediment
Floral gooseberry scent comes through to make this unique and distinctive. Perfect balance – not too sweet. May have limited application though…
No need to change this.
Strawberry aroma is unbelievable, but depth of flavour is lacking.
Makes a really interesting alternative
Consider alternatives to get more flavour into the liqueur without loosing the aroma. Other summer fruits? Strawberry only?
|A6/7||13 1/2||Total clarity
The citrusy kick of the gin really helps here. Better than the vodka base, but still lacking a fruity intensity
Probably make this instead of the vodka base, but still need to understand if we can get more from the fruit
Superb – J’s favourite. Gin balances the fruity intensity really well. Definitely a winner. Direct comparison with the Demi John original which acted as inspiration – this is better!!!
No need to change a thing on this. Only thing stopping this topping the ranking is K’s ambivalence for gin based drinks
So, we finally cracked open the bottles for some comparison taste tests. Over a couple of evenings K & I worked our way through samples to assess and score each, with recommendations for the future. The big headline is – They’re all great! Nothing here that I would consider a ‘failure’, or even something which will be assigned to the cupboard under the stairs forever. Yes, some are better than others, some have a more limited application and some I could happily drink all the time, but that was all part of the experiment.
None of the samples needed any further tweaking from a sweetening perspective. They were either ‘spot on’ or a little overly sweat for my tastes.
Main comments & observations:-
- Blackcurrant rules! The intensity of the flavour is unbelievable and unparalleled. How much of this is down to the pulping? I need to find out this season
- The pureeing didn’t cause any problems in the end. All of that worrying about the straining was for nothing. Could this then help extract more flavour from some of the other fruit?
- Redcurrant liqueurs look great from a very early stage
- Gooseberry has the most distinctive aroma imaginable. I still don’t know if this is good or bad, or exactly how I’m going to use it, but it wouldn’t really work in a gin based liqueur
- Strawberries add another great aroma dimension, but not a great deal of flavour
This has definitely inspired me to think about more liqueur making in the future, and even know I’m drawing up plans for a Rhubarb and Ginger option.
All I need are some 200 ml bottles and we’ve got some nice little Christmas presents lined up…