Remembering Summer with Homemade Blackberry Liqueur
At the end of August, I went blackberry picking with a friend of mine. We had a great time and I came home with several pounds of berries, and many snags and scratches from the thorns of those teethy Himalayan berries. Fortunately I had some melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) essential oil on hand to treat the scratches and ward off infection (normally I dilute essential oil before topical use but this was one of those rare cases when I felt confident in dabbing a tiny bit of it onto my skin from the bottle, since it wasn’t expired or oxidized).
Next time I will have a heavy-duty glove with me to protect the hand I use to move branches away. There were a couple of scary moments when I got snagged and I felt I was getting pulled deeper into the thorny plants.
Now for the berries, I looked for the darkest and fullest fruits that released easily from the plant, because I knew they’d be the sweetest.
That evening, I soaked all of the berries in water and rinsed them, since I heard that they often have bugs. I had mentally prepared myself (as much as a person can) for a lot of bugs. Fortunately, I only found a couple. What a relief!
I separated the pre-muddled berries that were falling apart from the firmer whole berries, set aside the whole berries to eat later, and thought about what to make.
Perhaps it’s the aromatherapist in me – I wanted to create something that would capture and preserve the essence of the berries to enjoy through autumn (and winter, if it lasts that long). I looked for liqueur recipes. There were many, but none explained the “whys” of the different methods and parts of the process, so without knowing the best process, I looked at a few examples and modified it to my current materials, intuition, experience, and ambition level.
Materials and ingredients:
about 1 quart berries
500 to 750 ml vodka
1 quart mason jar with lid or similar glass container
metal mesh colander and bowl to catch the strained liquid
utensil for pressing the liquid through the colander
Glass jar for strained liquid
Simple syrup step (1:1 ratio of sugar to water):
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
saucepan and stirring utensil
“Pourover” (see photo) or something to hold the coffee filter and allow it to drain
Cup to fit under the pourover for catching the filtered liqueur
glass bottle or jar for the filtered liqueur
8/28/17: Berries harvested
1 quart mason jar filled 3/4 full with blackberries (I used the more muddled, falling-apart ones)
Filled the jar the rest of the way with Absolute vodka, except for about 2” of headspace because I hadn’t yet decided when I was adding the simple syrup. For vodka, I wanted something inexpensive but good quality.
If cost wasn’t a consideration I would have considered “Permafrost” from the distillery in Alaska, my previous home state. I like the fireweed vodka they make.
8/28/17 – 9/11/17: Infused the berries in the vodka, with the first 3 days in a dark cupboard, the rest of the time in the fridge, shaking the infusion a couple times a day. There was no science to why it was in the cupboard for the first 3 days – one recipe recommended keeping it in the cupboard, but after 3 days I decided I wanted to infuse it longer and was concerned about keeping the berries fresher. I think the longer infusion time is responsible for the richer, deeper flavor of the finished product.
9/11/17: Strained the mixture through a fine metal mesh colander, put some through a coffee filter that rested in a ceramic “pourover” I made in my pottery studio, which rested on a cup (the cup in the photo was made by Meredith Host), but that was slower than I had the patience for at the time.
Simple syrup added – melted 1/2 c sugar with 1/2 cup simmering water in a saucepan, used about half, tasting the mixture as I added the syrup. The mixture by itself was definitely not sweet enough for my taste, but I found I didn’t need as much as some of the recipes suggested (up to a cup). Could it be added in the first part of the recipe before infusing? Possibly, but you could lose some of it in the straining process. Done!
The result is a liqueur that has a deep burgundy color, a hint of cloudiness, soft mouthfeel, with a deep, rich, and sweet blackberry flavor. There’s definitely a boozy taste to it, but it seems balanced by the blackberry flavor and not overpowering (the overpowering bit happens if I have more than 1/2oz). It’s definitely potent, but that should help it to last longer, as I can only handle 1/2 oz at a time!
9/18/17: Today as I write this I decided to filter about 4oz of the liqueur through my coffee filter pourover and compare. The filtered liqueur is clearer in color, sharper and crisper in flavor. The unfiltered has a softer feel to it. I don’t see either as superior, but my taste buds prefer the unfiltered. It will be interesting to see how these two versions change over time.
Jennifer S. Lombard
Earth and Aether Aromatherapy