A Very Ancient Craft
A liqueur is a sweetened, flavoured alcoholic beverage, obtained by distillation or infusion of aromatic and/or fruit substances, with potable spirit. Many winemakers now make their own liqueurs, and for those who like spirits these are extremely pleasant and relatively inexpensive recipes compared with the commercial varieties. All that is required is some of the very wide range of liqueur flavourings now on the market together with some vodka, a suitable wine base and some sugar syrup.
The essences are available inter alia from "Grey Owl Laboratories", Fermenta, who provide the T. Noirot extracts, or from Semplex. Each firm issues leaflets giving instructions on how to use their individual extracts, but the general principle is as follows.
Into a suitable bottle, which can be of fancy design and need not be a wine bottle, pour 10 a. oz. of vodka or Polish spirit of 140 degrees proof spirit. Add 6 fl. oz, of sugar syrup. This is obtained by boiling for two minutes 2 Ib. of sugar in one pint of water and when cool the syrup is bottled and kept for use as required. Next add two teaspoonfuls of the extract chosen and finally top up your bottle with wine. it is important that the wine should be a strong one that has been fermented on for as long as possible to obtain the highest alcoholic content. It is also desirable that the wine should not have too pronounced a flavour of its own.
Wines such as banana or rhubarb are excellent, but any poor flavoured strong wine of good body is quite suitable. The bottle is then corked and thoroughly shaken to integrate the ingredients. The liquor does not improve with keeping but it is as well to leave it a few days or a week, so that the ingredients become homogenous.
Different liqueurs can be made by varying the quantity of spirit and sugar. Liqueurs are very individual. drinks and one that you may enjoy immensely may cause another person to shudder. You are recommended to experiment in the first instance with a few of the more popular varieties of flavourings and to adjust the spirit and sugar content to suit your palate. For example, you may prefer more sugar and less spirit with some essences and more spirit and less sugar with others. The proportions given to you in the basic recipe can be no more than a general guide. You might also find that you prefer the essences from one firm as opposed to those from another. This again is a matter of taste.
Since liqueurs are served in small quantities in any case, it is suggested that in the first instance you use only small bottles and reduce the proportions according to the size of your bottle. If you hit upon one that you like immensely, then you can of course make up into the larger quantities to suit both your palate and your pocket.
Polish spirit or vodka is extremely expensive since it carries a very high tax and you must not try to get round this by distilling your own wine to provide you with the necessary alcohol. It is not only illegal but also extremely dangerous to distil your wine unless you have had specific training on this matter. In distillation many alcohols are produced; those which come off first and last can be poisonous. The French refer to these as the 'head' and the 'tail' and use only the 'heart'.
For your own sake then do not distil your wine but drink it instead. If you want to make liqueurs use only Polish spirit or vodka, not even cheap brandy, since this imparts its own flavour to the liqueur. This is equally true if you should ever want to fortify a wine, such as a sherry, port or Madeira. Never use a brandy, no matter how good, since the flavour will always come through, but use instead vodka, which has no flavour at all. With care and attention, however, wine can be fermented on to a perfectly adequate degree of alcoholic content and fortification is rarely necessary and not often desirable.