wild things roundup: little winter sips & shots

Intending to make holiday gifts for my loved ones, I really went nuts with liquers this year. Once I had about ten luscious little brews going I realized that most of my gift-ees either don’t drink or only like Bud Light or Hot Damn. Aaand…it takes more than 2 weeks of macerating to get the most flava out of some of these babies. So, now  merry christmas to me I have a LOT of liquers. Here are a few of the winners:

The most inspired was a Mexican-style chocolate liquer. The idea was to blend “spicy” and “lovely” into  the perfect drink. I took 2 dried chipotles, 3 cinnamon sticks, a whole nutmeg and several large pinches of raw cacao nibs, a whole vanilla bean and some brandy. Into a quart jar. Let me tell you. 2 whole chipotles is too much.  Half of one would be just right for me–experiment according to your own taste.

ruby slippers

The more boring but truly versatile and also drinkable was: Ruby Slippers. Very easy! Take a whole bag of frozen raspberries. Blend with enough vodka to fill a 1/2 gallon jar. Wait. Press it out. It  is brilliantly red. Adding a vanilla bean is a bonus here, as is a little cinnamon if desired. This is blendable too.

hello. is it me you’re looking for?

The most fancypants liquer i made was chestnut. I had read in the NYTimes(dining) that Italian chestnut liquer was over a hundred  dollars a bottle and thought
“screw that, i’ll make my own!”

Sure, theirs was probably aged and European and sold in a lovely bottle and all…but this was good enough.

So I roasted 2 pounds of fresh chestnuts in  a cast iron pan in the oven. Just keep an eye on that. After they cooled,  I halved them and filled quart jars halfway. To one I added 2 scoops of raw honey, to the other I did not. I prefer the unsweetened, but both were interesting. Amounts are adjustable, experiment! It is really rather exquisite. And easy! It’s like “what is that flavor?”

i don’t need your fancy italian bottle!

I also tried a roasted hazelnut liquer, along the lines of Frangelico. My tastes are inspired by ancient monks, I guess. Same idea as the chestnut. very smooth. This combines well with vanilla and nutmeg too.

I came across some very nice satsumas at the market and I peeled 3 and filled a jar with the pieces.  ( Can use peels if desired) I added a little maple syrup and several cinnamon sticks. This one does not have a snappy name yet. When you use whole fruit it helps to press it out in your tincture press or a jam or cheese press. To really get that juicy goodness some muscles should be working, you know what i’m saying?

Or…you can save the fruit in there and enjoy a little summer flavor  in the dead of winter. for example, I will cut up some peaches, cover in brandy, then eat  them as a dessert in winter. mmm.

ah, staring into the infinite red well of longing. again.

For a real warmer try the  blend I call “ice fishing”–though we haven’t had much ice this year, it’s an homage to my childhood. I filled a quart jar about 1/8 of the way with dried ginger, added a vanilla bean and filled it with brandy. Yes, that was a little too much ginger,  I need to dilute it. So I would suggest more like 1/10-just cover the bottom of the jar. Or cut with seltzer later. This is very nice with citrus zest. Truly warming, good with anything apple…pie, crisp, baked apples, etc. Also lovely in a mug of tea. Ginger hot toddy, anyone?


The solstice liquer I make every year– but change just a little bit each time. It is a fruity  winter warmer with as many unsprayed oranges as I can fit into a big jar. I add a lot of cinnamon sticks, or chips, 1-2 vanilla beans depending on how fancy you are, whole  cardamon pods, a nutmeg, and a few peppercorns.any kind.  Fill the jar with brandy and sit for about 6 weeks. This one requires a press to squeeeze out the orange juice. It is delicious– the peel stays on while macerating  to give a little hint of  bitter. I don’t feel the need to mix it with anything, it is very orangey. This one is my go-to holiday brew, it’s  warming and practically health food.

too much ginger

There is nothing like a nip of handmade warming goodness on a cold night to warm and relax or a toast with friends and family to celebrate the bounty of  earth. I encourage you to try your hand at a little something, and of course to drink responsibly and don’t drive or operate heavy machinery.

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