I recently bought myself a sweet little book of liqueur recipes – it’s called Home Made Liqueurs and you can get a copy on Amazon. It promises recipes for liqueurs, ratafias, cordials, shrubs, brandies, gins and whiskies – I’d never ever heard of some of those things so I was excited about finding out more. It’s more of a booklet than a book; the cover is new but inside, the recipes are pure vintage. They say things like ‘Have ready some wide-mouthed glass bottles, and half-fill them with sound, ripe damsons…’. The language is just a little archaic, hinting of a time gone by when people made their own cordials and played croquet on the lawn.
In case you are wondering, a ratafia just seems to be another word for ‘liqueur’ and a shrub is rum or brandy-based drink. Not as exotic as it sounds, but this won’t stop me making them and insisting they be called by their proper name. Some of the recipes that really stand out include Athole Brose, Four Fruit Ratafia and Greengage Shrub – you may be beginning to see why I bought myself this book.
I started off by making a blueberry cordial, which starts out with blueberries, sugar and gin. I chose Morrison’s Finest gin, as I’ve done before, because I think it’s better than some brand names that I could mention but it’s also cheaper than your high-end, boutique products. When you’re adding fruit and sugar to the alcohol the flavour doesn’t need to be refined, but it does need to be good enough that you wouldn’t mind sipping it. If it’s too rough in the first place, there will always be an unpleasant undertaste to the finished product. Words of wisdom, there.
So, I split the given amount of blueberries and sugar between three jars, and topped up with a bottle of gin. The only difficult part of the process is having the patience to wait six weeks before you drink the end result. I made it easier on myself by clearing a little space under the sink, in the dark and cool, where I could stash the jars while they did their thing and not taunt myself by having to look at them every day. The colour of the fruit started to leach into the gin after only one day, giving it a beautiful violet colour that was stupidly hard to capture on camera.
I was supposed to leave the liqueur to infuse for two months – I cut it off after six weeks, so that I could take it to Doune with me. I strained the fruit out of the gin (saving it for future, to be revealed use) then added about a cup of lemonade and two cups of simple syrup to the end result. Simple syrup is equal volumes of water and sugar, heated until the sugar dissolves – it’s called ‘simple’ for a reason.
After six weeks, the colour is amazingly rich, a deep mulberry colour:
I embraced the DIY nature of flavouring my own liqueur by using a couple of good jars and then one that used to contain hotdogs. It’s what I had to hand… I’ve been saving glass jars recently for this very reason; jars are easier to add all the ingredients to, and to remove them from again at the end. I’ve been keeping bottles, too, for the finished results. I’d really love some of those gorgeous sloe gin, flask style bottles, but it seems crazy not to recycle ones I’ve already emptied at home. Plus it removes the need to go to the bottle bank with bags clinking, feeling the need to exclaim ‘this is a month’s worth!’ to anyone who passes.
A rough recipe for Blueberry Cordial, then, as inspired by the original in Home Made Liqueurs:
- 400g blueberries
- 200g granulated sugar
- 700ml gin
- 1 cup lemonade
- 2 cups simple syrup
Put the blueberries and sugar in a wide-mouthed bottle or jar, or spit between a few smaller jars.
Pour over the gin, seal the bottles or jars and shake well to dissolve the sugar.
Leave for six to eight weeks.
Strain and add lemonade and syrup. Mix well.
Drink while sitting in Tent City and enjoying a raucous singalong.