Here in North Carolina it’s basically impossible to buy Chartreuse, Maraschino, or Aquavit. There’s no Fernet Branca or Creme de Violette. No rye to speak of, other than Jim Beam’s unpleasant yellow-label. We’re one of nine states with a government-controlled monopoly on liquor sales, so the state decides what I get to drink.
As much as I want to call that “fascist” or “freedom-hating” or “unamerican” or “socialist” and make a stink at town-hall meetings and whatnot, my desire for invective does not outweigh my commitment to factual accuracy. Alcohol control states are not inherently freedom-hating: Oregon is another of the nine, and yet our own Ouroboros seems to be just fuckingly tripping over bottles of Maraska Maraschino and delightful locally-produced artisan spirits. It’s just that my fellow North Carolinians don’t produce sufficient demand for the good shit and I ain’t got the ducats to order a case of bottles.
So, OK, fine. If you can’t drink globally, produce locally. Thus I decided to start making my own liqueurs and/or cordials. There’s two good reasons to do this. One: you can make delicious new things that you’ve never tried before – stuff they don’t sell in stores. And two: if done right it’s dirt-ass cheap. So let’s start with some basics.
First off: the basic process is dead simple. Take something delicious and let it soak in booze for a while. Filter out the chunky parts and drink the rest – perhaps diluted or sweetened. I’ll present some of the recipes I’ve tried soon, but first let’s talk equipment.
Obviously, you’re gonna need containers to put the booze in – first to let it age, and then something else to filter it into. Obviously you can use empty bottles from stuff you drank earlier – as on the right of the photo. Yeah, I’m sure you’ve got a few of them around. But most cordials (ProTip: a “cordial” is usually an infusion with fruit or berries; “liqueur” is usually reserved for things made from herbs, spices, and nuts) involve a significant volume of fruit – how the hell are you gonna stuff a cup of blueberries or a whole orange into that vodka bottle?
Enter the Mason Jar – center stage of the above photo. Around here you can get a dozen of them (that’s a 1-quart wide-mouth jar) for about $10. They’ll hold a medium-sized orange or a bag of frozen blueberries plus 750mL of alcohol quite nicely.
Finally, if you want some slightly fancier bottles (like the one on the left) you can get this Lorina lemonade junk in a lot of mediocre supermarkets. It pretends it’s made by monks in France or some shit but it’s basically just fizzy sugar-water. They come in nice reusable 750mL and 1L swing-top bottles and cost like $5. You could probably try real hard and find big swing-top bottles for cheaper but I’m lazy and the wife likes the fizzy lemonade so there you go.
You might also try to find smaller swing-top bottles, which you could decorate with festive ribbons and whimsical labels, and present to your friends as gifts at holidays and such. You can also fuck right off, because we’re trying to make drinks here, not fucking decorative gift baskets or some shit.
Anyway. Once you decide that your infusion is ready to be bottled, you’re gonna need to filter it. Coffee filters work great for this. Get a funnel that coffee filters will fit in. You can get that OXO funnel set for $8 on amazon.com, and #2 cone coffee filters will fit right in it. That little 4-cup metal coffee filter will set you back another $8, but it’s awesome as a first-stage filter to keep the paper filter from clogging up too quickly.
Honestly though, the funnel is the only thing you really need. You can age your infusions in old jars of spaghetti sauce and filter through paper towels and your stuff will probably turn out mostly OK. Just don’t blame me if your limoncello ends up tasting like Brawny and Chunkstyle Ragu.
To start you off, here’s the very simplest infusion I can think of. You basically cannot go wrong with this.
- 750mL 100-proof vodka
- 1 vanilla bean/pod
Split the vanilla bean open lengthwise and stick it in the vodka bottle. Infuse for 7 days, then filter.