Preserve Summer All Year With Fruit Liqueurs

Whether you’ve been growing your own, getting deliveries from a CSA, or frequenting the farmers market, the end of Summer might leave you with an abundance of fruit you’re not sure what to do with. Of course you can freeze it or make jam, but another fun way to play with summer fruit is to make a liqueur. It’s especially good for using up bruised or slightly overripe fruit. I’ve been doing it all season and sharing recipes in my Serious Eats columns. Here are some to try:

Peach liqueur (creme de peche) ~ In addition to splashing it in some iced tea and shaking it up with gin and lemon, you can also glaze chicken with it or pour it on some ice cream.

Strawberry liqueur (fragolo) ~ I used this liqueur in a summer sangria made with a dry red wine along with sliced peaches, cherries, apples, and lemons along with a little brandy. It was so good!

Cherry liqueur ~ You can’t make a Singapore Sling without this stuff, and you’ll be surprised how the fresh cherry taste carries over into liqueur. It makes some of the store-bought stuff seem like cough syrup.

Blackberry liqueur (creme de mure) ~ Where I live, blackberry bushes are everywhere, so there’s no excuse not to make a batch of this liqueur and mix up a Bramble.

Raspberry liqueur (framboise) ~ This one is made with a little wine to bring out the tartness and depth of the berries. Very sophisticated!

Banana liqueur ~ Bananas don’t get a lot of play in the cocktail world, but they should! Complemented by rum and raw sugar, the clean flavor of banana in this liqueur is out of this world.

Melon liqueur ~ Forget about the bright green stuff, homemade melon liqueur is where it’s at. Sweet but not too sweet, with just the right amount of funkiness.

My Favorite DIY cocktail ingredients so far

I have a weekly column on Serious Eats where I post recipes for DIY cocktail ingredients. That’s a lot of homemade cocktail ingredients! While I like all the recipes I post there, I do have my favorites. So if you have a hankerin’ to do a cocktail project but aren’t sure where to start, these are my favorite recipes I’ve done there so far:

Ginger Liqueur ~ While I love ginger liqueur, I was surprised that this ended up being one of my favorite and most useful homemade ingredients. It turns out I wasn’t alone, and I’ve been hearing from readers that they also fell in love with the slight kick and light sweetness of ginger liqueur.

Orange Bitters ~ Even though you only use a few drops at a time, bitters are a critical part of making cocktails. These orange bitters are different than what’s on the market while still performing reliably in cocktails. DIY bitters have a reputation as being a project for cocktail geeks only, but they’re actually not difficult to make. You’ll need to get a hold of some special tree bark and other things I had to go to the hippie store in Berkeley to find, but the result is something you can keep around for years.

Grenadine ~Real grenadine is radically different from the weird dyed-red goo you usually see in stores. For one thing, homemade grenadine actually tastes like it was made with pomegranates. It has a bright, tart flavor that goes well in everything from Tiki cocktails to light summer sparkling drinks. Also, if you make this, you just might be surprised to discover that you actually like Shirley Temples after all.

Allspice Dram ~ Spice is somewhat rare in your typical cocktail, which is why I love this allspice liqueur. It’s most known as a Tiki ingredient, but once you start experimenting with it, you’ll see it’s at home in a whole variety of concoctions.

Homemade Gin ~ Without going through the whole trouble (and possible illegality) of distilling your own spirits, you can still make a gin that’s darn good. And you can control the flavor profile: Maybe you want intense juniper with bold coriander notes? Or light floral and citrus flavors with a strong grassy finish? It’s up to you. Though, it’s basically gin-flavored vodka, it’s a totally legit way of making gin … many companies do a more fancified version of this process to make their product.

Bloody Mary Improvisation

I posted over on Serious Eats about my favorite Bloody Mary garnish, the bacon swizzle stick. So my intention was to share my Bloody Mary recipe here … until I realized I don’t have one. Now, this isn’t because I don’t make Bloody Marys. But every time I’ve tried to document my recipe, I end up tasting and tweaking. I have at least 13 half-written recipes that I stopped documenting. I think as much as I love the taste of a good Bloody Mary, I also love the process of improvising one.

I link to some good recipes in the bacon post, but here’s what I usually do:

  1. Make spicy tomato juice by blending fresh or canned tomatoes with a chile pepper. (You’ll need about 4 ounces per drink.)
  2. Add soy sauce (or Worcestershire sauce) to taste. Possibly also some garlic? Maybe a dash of Tabasco or Sriracha?  Often some celery salt, but usually some pepper? Oh, and of course a big old dollop of horseradish.
  3. Now some lemon juice. Maybe a little more.
  4. Vodka time! One shot (1 1/2 ounces) of whatever I have, which is often a mini-bar-sized sample bottle I got for review purposes.
  5. Roll the drink with ice (this is pouring the liquid and ice back and forth between two halves of a Boston shaker or two pint glasses).
  6. Serve on the rocks in a tall glass and garnish the hell out of it.

Now for the best part … garnishing options. I usually do at least two garnishes. Besides the always-wonderful bacon stirrer, other options are:

  1. The traditional leafy celery stalk
  2. Olives
  3. Cornichons
  4. Pickled asparagus or green beans
  5. Crab claw
  6. Skewered, hard-boiled quail egg
  7. Shrimp
  8. Okra
  9. Skewered cheeses

I’m open to more. Like I always say: Everyone loves a cocktail that comes with a snack.

DIY vs. Buy: Sometimes It’s Not Worth it to DIY

Normally, I’m writing about why you should make a cocktail ingredient yourself. But there are times when it’s just not worth it.

If I had a nickel for every mason jar full of herbs, spices, and liquor steeping in my kitchen, I’d have 55 cents. (That’s not a lot of money, but it is a lot of weird jars.) So it might seem like I am biased against store-bought cocktail ingredients. But when it comes down to it, there are only three things I would never buy for my cocktails: simple syrup, pre-juiced citrus, and sour mix. Seriously, if you can’t combine sugar and water or juice a lemon, I’m not sure you should be allowed to drink. But there are a few items that I will just never try to make myself. And I don’t think you should either.

DIY vs. Buy: Cocktail Ingredients You Should Not Make Yourself on Serious Eats

Photo by Liam Boylan

DIY vs. Buy: Allspice Dram, the Tiki Secret

Tiki drinks are so much fun … and so are tiki ingredients. Allspice dram is a little hard to find and a lot easy to make. So make it already!

Allspice dram is a simple liqueur flavored with allspice berries. It’s also known as pimento dram, because allspice is a berry from the pimento tree. (But pimento makes most people think of olives, so I don’t like to call it that.) There’s nothing like it. It’s a big part of Tiki drinks, adding a dark, strong, and spicy counterpoint to rum and sweet ingredients.

DIY vs. Buy: Should I Make My Own Allspice Dram? on Serious Eats

Photo by Liam Boylan

DIY vs. Buy: Delightful Pear Liqueur

This homemade liqueur is the perfect match for Champagne! That makes it the perfect match for me.

During the winter, many of the more showy fruits are out of season, but you can still find decent pears. (You have to love a fruit that goes equally well with stinky cheese and pork chops as it does with Champagne and brandy.)

DIY vs. Buy: Should I Make My Own Pear Liqueur?  on Serious Eats

Photo by Liam Boylan

DIY vs. Buy: Get Tiki with Falernum

You may not have heard of falernum, but if you love Tiki cocktails then you probably love falernum. It’s a combination of lime and spices, either as a rum liqueur or a syrup. Give it a try!

Falernum is indispensable in Tiki drinks, brightening the sour notes of citrus and adding a hint of rich spice. But it also plays well with slightly bitter flavors. If you’re at all interested in Tiki cocktails, this stuff is a must-have for your home bar.

DIY vs. Buy: Should I Make My Own Falernum? on Serious Eats

Photo by Liam Boylan

DIY vs. Buy: Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Spiced Rum

If you like spiced rum, there is no reason on Earth that you shouldn’t infuse your own. It’s so easy a drunk pirate could do it!

All the spices are common grocery-store finds you probably have in the cupboard already. Since you just need a pinch of this and a couple of that, the only significant cost is the rum. You’ll end up with a more elaborate and rich mix of spices than you’ll find in the store-bought kinds.

DIY vs. Buy: Should I Make My Own Spiced Rum? on Serious Eats

Photo by Liam Boylan

DIY vs. Buy: Legit Orange Bitters

This column was a fun excuse to make bitters the authentic way–with obscure bittering ingredients like gentian root and quassia chips. In my book, I have two great bitters recipes using easy-to-find grocery store items. They do the job and do it well. But the cocktail geek in me was happy to play around with weird tree bark for an traditional yet still totally original hardcore bitters recipe. (Don’t worry: It isn’t hard or expensive.)

Even though you only use a dash or two at a time, bitters can make or break a cocktail. Angostura bitters is the default, but orange bitters are actually very versatile.

Orange bitters are basically my cocktail Superman. When I’ve screwed up a drink by making it too sweet or gotten so close to perfection only to end up with something flat-tasting, orange bitters have swooped in to save the day. Just a drop or two can add the right depth or bridge together ingredients that aren’t quite living up to their mixological potential. But orange bitters are so much more than a way to fix a bad drink—they’re an essential part of so many balanced cocktails because of their deep, citrusy, spicy, and complex flavor.

DIY vs. Buy: Should I Make My Own Orange Bitters? on Serious Eats

Photo by Liam Boylan

DIY vs. Buy: How Do You Take Your Coffee Liqueur?

Look out, Kahlua–there’s a new coffee liqueur in town, and I made it! It’s super easy to make and tastes great. I share my recipe over at Serious Eats.

Homemade coffee liqueur tastes rich and full without any syrupy sweetness. Just like with coffee, not everyone takes their coffee liqueur the same way. If you’re picky about coffee, you can use your favorite beans in your own liqueur, and you have the option of playing with the spirit base as well. You can mix light and aged rums for more complexity. Not a rum person? Then try bourbon or vodka instead.

DIY vs. Buy: Should I Make My Own Coffee Liqueur? on Serious Eats