Making something tasty with 190 proof alcohol

One of the things that has always made mixology interesting to me is the staggering variety of flavors available in alcohol and the limitless possibilities in combining those flavors. When I discovered that I could infuse spirits with whatever fruit I could get my hands on, I just had to explore this new frontier (new for me at least).

The instructions I offer here is nothing you can’t find elsewhere. However, where most recipes teach you how to make a specific drink, this recipe represents a category of drinks you can make: a fruit liqueur in the flavor of your choice.

Ensure you’re abiding by your local laws before you choose to attempt this recipe.

What You Need

Ingredients

  • a 750 ml bottle of 95% (190 proof) neutral grain spirit
  • 600 g berries or fruit (See the end of the post for ideas)
  • white sugar
  • water

Equipment

  • an airtight glass 1.5 L jar (or bigger)
  • a pitcher that can hold at least 2 L, preferably with a measurement scale on the side
  • a small pot
  • a mesh strainer
  • cheesecloth (optional)
  • 2x 750 ml bottles
  • Measuring tools for wet and dry ingredients

The Process

Step 1

In the first stage of the process, we’re going to use the alcohol as a solvent to extract flavor and color from the fruit. The high alcohol content in the spirit means that it will be a more effective solvent. You can use 50% vodka if neutral grain spirit is not available to you. Save the bottle.

  • Add the fruit to the airtight jar
  • Add the 750 ml of neutral grain spirit to the jar
  • Seal the jar

Leave the jar sealed for about 7 days and swirl the contents at least once a day. The fruit must be completely submerged in the alcohol. The alcohol will not be able to extract flavors from any fruit that is not submerged. You should start to see the clear alcohol take on the color of the fruit within a couple minutes.

A few additional notes:

  • You want to use an airtight container so that the alcohol does not evaporate. Don’t open the container until you’re ready for step 2.
  • Store the jar in a cool dark place for the entire duration of step 1.
  • You can use fresh or frozen fruit for this process. If you’re using frozen fruit, you don’t need to thaw them before you start unless you want to.

Step 2

After the extraction is finished, you will need to prepare a simple syrup.

  • Combine 1.5 cups of white sugar with 1.5 cups of water in a small pot.
  • Heat the pot on the stove until all the sugar is completely dissolved.
  • Remove the syrup from heat and add room temperature water until you have 750 ml of syrup

If you have a 2 L pitcher with a measuring scale on the side you can use this to help measure the right amount of water to add to the syrup. Then, transfer the syrup back into the pot (or other container) to cool. If you have space in the fridge or freezer, you can use that to speed up the cooling process. This syrup will not only sweeten the end product but also dilute the alcohol. You can prepare the syrup a day before you start on step 3. Just store the syrup in the fridge until it’s time to use it.

Step 3

You will need to separate the solids from the alcohol. Use a mesh strainer to filter out the solids while transferring the alcohol into the 2 L pitcher. You can line the mesh strainer with a couple layers of cheesecloth to help filter out smaller particles and seeds (if you’re extracting strawberries or raspberries).

Do not crush the fruit to collect more fluid. The fruit can hang on to bitter flavors that you probably don’t want in the final product. I would recommend discarding the fruit (organic disposal, compost, etc.). They will taste pretty terrible with most of the flavor and sugars extracted out.

Step 4

Combine the alcohol with the room temperature syrup. Mix this thoroughly and bottle immediately. Now you’re done.

  • Avoid mixing warm syrup with the alcohol since this will only accelerate the evaporation of your booze. No one wants that.

Final Recipe Notes

Following this recipe, the calculated final alcohol by volume will be roughly 47.5% (or 95 proof).

You can skip the syrup step, however the final product may not be very pleasant to drink by itself. It could be used as a way to add flavor and a neutral alcohol when making cocktails.

What Fruit Can You Use?

Any berries will work really well using this recipe based on my experience from a handful of successful batches. I have yet to try other kinds of fruit, but that will be close on the horizon for me.

Things I’ve Tried:

  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Lemon Peel (Lemoncello)
  • Orange Peel (Orange-cello?)

Things I’m trying now:

  • Kiwi

Things that might be worth trying:

  • Other fruits like blueberry, mango, or pomegranate
  • Peach or Apricot using brandy instead of neutral grain spirit.
  • Hawaiian Punch (A combination Orange, Pineapple, Passion Fruit, Strawberry, and/or Cherry)
  • Banana using brown sugar in the syrup instead of white sugar.

How to Adjust Sweetness

If you only want to impact the level of sweetness but not change the intensity of the flavor, the instructions in step 2 will serve you well. Adjust the amount of sugar in the recipe up or down by a 1/4 cup, then follow the instructions as normal. You will still end up with 750 ml of syrup and the dilution rate of the mix will be the same.

Changing the amount of sugar may have an impact on the flavor the same way changing the amount of salt used in cooking food changes the flavor of a dish. Like salt, sugar can bring out some flavors while masking others.

Summary

Even though I wrote at length about the process, it’s not a very difficult one:

  • Steep the fruit in alcohol for a week
  • Make a simple sugar
  • Strain the alcohol off the fruit
  • Combine the alcohol with syrup.

That’s it. Enjoy your creations.

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