Making herbal and fruit liqueurs at home
Last night I spent hours in the kitchen, and when I was done these were in my fridge:
We ended up with one large bottle of “Melissamint” liqueur, which is a combination of mint and lemon balm (melissa officinalis), one slightly less large bottle of orange mint, and one bottle of tart cherry. And one small bottle of “drunken cherries,” which are essentially the fruit leftover for the cherry liqueur soaked in sugar syrup, which strike me as possibly the most delightful way to get stinkingly smashed that I can possibly think of.
In another post, I gave my recipes for making herbal tinctures and liqueurs…essentially, you soak whatever it is in some clear flavorless booze, either 80-100 proof vodka or a half and half mixture of distilled water and grain alcohol for anywhere from two weeks to two months, drain it through cloth or coffee filter or something, and then mix equal parts of simple sugar solution (equal parts sugar and water heated till the sugar dissolves) and your drained herb-infused alcohol. Bottle and wait a couple more months. Takes a long time, but it’s actually really easy.
This time specifically: I’d made a large jar of orange mint tincture, out of a combination of orange mint from the garden and one orange worth of zest and juice. I also had a good amount of last season’s lemon balm tincture still in a jar in the garage. So I made two different potions: One of straight mint with sugar solution, and one half and half with lemon balm.
Now, all of these need a couple of months to deepen and mellow, but I always do initial taste tests to see where they started and what direction they are heading.
The Orange Mint Liqueur was very good, very strong and minty. In hindsight, two oranges would have been good; the citrus is only present as a very faint aftertaste; still, it’s a nice bright -tasting drink despite its rather nondescript brown color. And there is a good chance that the mint will calm down and the orange will assert a little more as it ages. We shall see. This is likely to be used as Christmas gifts for some of those friends whom we know we can give liqueurs to.
The Melissamint liqueur is much more “herbal” tasting, and much more complex. We make tea out of mint and balm together all the time, so I’m not surprised this combination is really nice in a liqueur also. It’s a sort of syrupy dark brown, mostly from the balm, which gets really gooey and hard to strain. But it’s very nice. This also should age well. And this will likely be drunk mostly by my husband.
The Tart Cherry liqueur, the one that came from the beginning-to-be-overripe farmers market cherries three weeks ago, is a deep rich gorgeous ruby red; one almost doesn’t care what it would taste like, it looks so pretty. My husband, when he tasted it, said immediately, “It tastes like cough syrup.” When I kicked him, he said, “No, I like cough syrup!” I have to admit, to anyone who grew up taking cherry-flavored cough medicine, the similarity will be hard to escape. I didn’t take too much of that stuff as a kid (Hated it, actually), so I’m not quite as saddled with the association. What I taste is a nice delicate cherry flavor, very genuine and with just enough tartness to balance the sweet of the sugar syrup. This one, actually, could probably have been a much less sweet drink and been even nicer. (That cough syrup thing.) I may play with this one a bit–while some I will leave alone, it does make me wonder what could happen if I mixed it with some other herbal flavors, perhaps some of the more savory or even floral ones–I wonder what cherry chamomile would be like, for example?
That fourth little bottle, as I said, was the leftover cherries that I couldn’t bear to throw away. I mixed them with more of the sugar syrup and bottled them. In hindsight I should have left them alone, or maybe poured orange juice or something over them instead–they taste, I sadly confess, a lot like cough syrup now, whereas when they were fresh out of the alcohol they were just insanely intoxicated cherries.
And now I’m going to go have a glass of last year’s lemon balm liqueur…