Summer fruits and flavours are aplenty at this time of year. Many of us have vast, blooming crops of raspberries, blackcurrants or plums and damsons kicking about. In fact, when the harvest all happens at the same time, often it’s hard to know what to do with so many lush fruits.
Enter: flavoured gin and vodka.
Perfect for using up the last of your summer crop, a good infused spirit will last months (if not years) in the cupboard, so you can keep savouring those homegrown flavours all year long.
Don’t have a bumper crop of berries and plums at your disposal? Vanilla pods, citrus peel, or foraged sloes and blackberries will also work. Just make sure to ask permission where necessary before you delve into the hedgerows - and make sure to wear long layers to protect you from thorns and brambles.
Here’s how to make your own fruity tipples at home.
Yields: 1.5 litres
Time it takes: 2-3 months
Tasty fruit-infused spirits work deliciously with a classic mixer like tonic or lemonade, or incorporated into a funky, fruity cocktail.
For every litre of gin or vodka, you'll need 500g of fresh fruits and 100g-250g of caster or golden caster sugar, depending on the sweetness of your fruit. Blackcurrants and sloes will need around 250g of sugar, while sweeter fruits like raspberries and plums will need less. This will yield around 1.5 litres of infused vodka or gin.
First of all, freeze all of your fruit overnight. This will blister the fruit's skin, which releases more juice, colour and flavour into the alcohol. You can keep your berries (raspberries, blackcurrants, blackberries or sloes) whole for this bit. Or, if you're working with plums or damsons, roughly chop them into coin-sized chunks, removing the pits as you go.
The next morning, sterilise your glass bottles using either the dishwasher or Thane Prince's oven method for glass jars. Wash the bottles in hot, soapy water, then leave them to dry out in an oven set to 200°C for 20 minutes.
Once the bottles have been sterilised, dispense the fruit evenly between the bottles. Next, dissolve the sugar into the vodka or gin. Use a large mixing bowl to avoid spillages, and don't forget, this can be done in two batches if necessary. Pour this mixture over the fruit in the bottles and leave only a very small of space at the top - approximately 50ml of space. This gives the liquid room to swish around inside, but doesn't leave too much room for airborne bacteria that'll spoil your final product.
Seal your bottles and store them on their side somewhere cool and dark. You'll need to lightly shake each of your bottles every day for the first week. This makes sure the sugar is dissolved in the gin. After that, rotate your bottles 180 degrees (turn them so the length that was resting on the work surface is now pointed towards the sky) every other day for 2-3 months.
After this time, strain your infused gin or vodka through a muslin cloth to get rid of pip and skins. As it's draining, re-sterilise your bottles to make sure there's no residue lurking inside. Pour the strained spirit back into the re-sterilised bottles using a funnel, and your infused gin or vodka is complete. Continue to store it in a dark space, like a cupboard, to help it age. The infused flavour will get better and better with time, so try to leave it for a couple more months - if your will-power is strong enough...
Vanilla or citrus-infused spirits
Yields: 1 litre
Time it takes: 3-4 weeks
You don't have to miss out on all the infusing fun if you don't have hoards of fresh produce in your own garden to use up. Vanilla and citrus-infused spirits are just as delicious, and can be made with vanilla pods or citrus peel bought from your local store.
It's simple: pour your gin or vodka into your glass bottles and add your desired flavour. If you're using citrus, add the peel of one lemon or lime to every litre of spirit, thoroughly washed and made into strips using a vegetable peeler.
If you're making vanilla-infused gin or vodka, add 1 medium-sized vanilla pod for every 500ml of spirit. Slice the pod lengthways and pop it straight into the bottle.
Once the bottles are sealed, store them in a cool, dark place and shake every other day to help the flavours infuse. After two weeks, sample your spirit and see if it's to your taste. The longer you infuse the flavours, the stronger it'll be. Once it reaches your desired strength, strain the spirit through a muslin cloth, meanwhile re-sterilising your bottles, then return it to the bottles using a funnel. This will keep up to a year in a cool, dark place.
Why make just one flavour when you could have some fun and create your own special blend? Blackcurrants and sloes work well together, as do raspberries and lime peel. Other delicious combinations include:
- Blackberry and vanilla
- Lemon peel and thyme
- Damson or plum and cardamom
- Blackberry and raspberry
- Blackcurrant and lime
- Blackberry and thyme
Since most flavours take the same length of time to infuse, why not try making two or three different flavours at the same time? Just make sure to clearly label your bottles.
Not only are home-infused spirits a brilliant way to add some special flare to drinks and cocktails, but they also make fantastic gifts. And, if you get infusing now, your finished bottles will be ready just in time for Christmas. Perfect!
Has our handy run-down got you feeling inspired to brew some of your own tipples this coming autumn? Make sure to stock up on everything you need, from ingredients and spirits to bottles and funnels, at Asda or pop into your local store.