Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Winter drinks - the verdict.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, were spent, you might remember, madly concocting inifinite beverages, that the winter might be spent hunkered down by the fire, a glass of some sweet form of hedgerow inebriation in the hand.  And, thank goodness!  For now, winter is ripe, and the cupboards overspilling with tipple.

First then, the infused liquers.  Gin left to mull with Bullace from the garden, Whisky full of wild Blackberries, Vodka with Elderflowers and Gooseberries.  I have learnt a lot about these.  Often the tendency, and the recipes I have found, have doused the alcohol full of sugar, as well as fruit.  As, it appears, the alcohol alone preserves the fruit and is quite palatable with only the barest brush of sugar, the amount of sugar often reccomended is really for those with a sweet tooth.  I prefer a sharper, dryer and often bitterer drink, so for next year, I will use the following quantities:
4pts Alcohol : 3lb Fruit : 8oz Sugar
With very sweet fruits, such as Blackberries, I might even reduce this to 6oz Sugar.
Secondly, as I am not a drinker of summer cocktails with ice, shaken in tall glasses, I have found the lighter Vodkas and Gins (Gooseberry, floral etc) harder to drink, too sweet mixed with tonic, and not quite my thing on their own.  I have found these best as gifts.  The darker, winter brews, are wonderful alone, warm by the fire, and I will make these again by the bucketful next year.

The Quince Brandy was long awaited, hoping to capture that wondrous floral perfume and tart flavour.  I tried two versions, one raw, and one cooked.  I have to say that having left the both three months in bottles with a variety of spices, the Quince sadly hadn't given much of its inimitable flavour to the Brandy, it instead tasted mainly of the spices, of which too much Star Anise for my palate was evident!  The cooked version did have a slight fruitiness.  Next year I shall attempt with grated Quince, as one friend suggested, no spices and leave it longer, perhaps even with a dash of Quince Juice.  However, it made a wonderful spiced warming drink, and another great Christmas present...

2011 Recipes for infused Alcohols:
Sloe Gin
Bullace Gin
Blackberry Whisky
Gooseberry and Elderflower Vodka
Gooseberry and Whitecurrant Gin
Quince Brandy

Cherry Vodka

As for the brews, the Elderflower Champagne was a dream, drunk young, aged well to a sharper wine, and I shall be making much in the future - despite the explosions in the shed!

Otherwise, I still have to perfect my brewing.  My tactic seems to be: mix it all up, forget about it... and in one case mice had found my muslin bottle tops rather tasty, another had turned to vinegar.  The experts on home-made wines are Carl Legge - see his wonderful blog.  And, Christophe, on Clare Island.  I spent November there racking, bottling, and tasting a variety of brews.  My memory is still sharp with the sweet sour and perfectly musty Rhubarb and Apple Wine, the two years aged Vin de Cassis, which was sweet and rich and drank like a good Port.

The Hedgerow Syrup has been a favourite.  Pasteurised as it was in bottles, it has kept well, and serves as a hot and heartwarming winter drink, to fend off flu, to ward off the weather.  I also made a Quince Syrup, along similar lines, which i drink as a cordial, a lovely flavour, and great quencher of the thirst after a stint in the garden.  Both can also be used in crumbles, compotes and wintry puds...

So... with the coming of Spring, and first the Elderflowers, I look forward to a new spell of concocting drinks to fill the cabinet, for yet another winter hunkered down by the fire.


  1. Love the sound of the rhubarb and apple wine, and I agree about adding the sugar to infused liqueurs - they're so much better tarter, and more versatile. After all, you're often picking the fruit at optimum ripeness and it's nice to preserve that fresh & bright taste.

    On the other hand, we had success last year with a drink that had a large amount of sugar in it: 6 bottles of Valpolicella, a kilo of sugar, a litre of eau de vie and a large basketful of blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)shoots, picked very soon (a fortnight or so) after the leaves had appeared. The whole lot is warmed together to dissolve the sugar, and then left to steep for 2 months before bottling.

    The end product has that port-like texture and richness, but the best thing about it was tasting it every week, and watching the flavours develop through a spectrum of prunus characters: it started off very light peach and almond-like before showing bright cherry, and then dense with some dried apricot flavours and finally rich and plum & sloe-dominated. Truly extraordinary, and this year I'm going to try making double quantities and then bottling at week intervals. Can't wait for March!

  2. Wow! Wonderful comment! Thanks Harry - I must try some of that Prunus drink.... sounds a dream.

  3. 1 1/2 Pints Gin - 4oz Sugar - 4oz Sloes - SLOE GIN of Dec 2011 - again too sweet for my palate. 2012 will try as above : 4 pints Alcohol : 3 lb Fruit : 8oz Sugar


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