Well, it's that time of the year when apples start to replace the tomatoes at farmer's market. Last weekend, a vendor was selling bags of fresh cranberries, so I decided to try to get a jump on the holidays by creating a cranberry liqueur.
I want everyone to know that this is an experiment. While I have made lots of liqueurs in the past, I have not made one with cranberries. For this reason, I cannot post a complete recipe which is why this is only Part 1. I will describe my process in detail here now so you too can get started if you like. If you'd rather follow a completed recipe, there are plenty of them online. I even found a commercial product called Boggs Cranberry Liqueur, but it seems Boggs is no longer in business. So, in the spirit of trying new and exciting things, and with an open mind about the results, I am going to attempt my own version of this liqueur and share the outcome.
It may surprise you to read that I am not a fan of cranberries. Sure, I like the juice and I love mixing it with OJ, but I never eat them at holiday meals. I guess it's the bitterness that turns me off, but I am hoping to get past this in my experiment by adding an appropriate amount of syrup when I am ready to bottle the results. I just don't know how much sugar I want to add and this is what is keeping the recipe a bit of a mystery at this point.
We bought the smaller bag from the vendor at the farmer's market the other day, and I am using about half of that. I measured 12 ounces of fresh cranberries because I heard that 12 ounce bags are common. I figured this amount would be a good place to start. After washing the berries, I chopped them with a food processor. Cranberries must be chopped or else you will only get the bitter flavor of the skins. Once chopped, I added them to a one-quart canning jar with a sealable lid.
In addition to the cranberries, I added six crushed allspice berries for a nice holiday flavor. You could use powdered allspice if you like, but use very little—like less than an 1/8 of a teaspoon. Allspice can easily overpower the flavor of anything you are making. I also added some lemon peel (about a third of a lemon). The lemon should help bring out the flavor of the cranberries. With all of my ingredients in the jar, it's time to add the alcohol.
I am using 2 cups of 190 proof neutral grain spirits (Everclear) that I picked up in Wisconsin. Most recipes specify vodka which is also neutral in flavor, but I chose the higher-proof option. My thought is that a stronger spirit is likely to extract more flavor faster from the berries, and I don't want to wait too long for this. In Minnesota, you can get 151 proof Everclear at most liquor stores, but you'll need to cross into our neighboring state to get the really strong stuff. With a lower concentration of alcohol, you may need to steep the berries longer. I did a little research and found a wide variety of thoughts regarding steep time. While some claim that you can get away with only a couple weeks, others say you need to let the berries release their flavor for several months. These recipes all used 80 proof vodka, so longer steep times might be warranted. Still others believe it's important to allow the completed liqueur to "mature" in the bottle for some aging period. This could effectively double the time it takes to finish. I am not convinced that aging is going to be necessary since one recipe suggested that cranberries in particular don't benefit from extra aging. I could be wrong, but I am optimistic that the liqueur will be drinkable either way.
Cranberry Liqueur UNFINSIHED
12 oz fresh cranberries
6 allspice berries (cracked)
1/3 lemon peel
2 cups 190 proof neutral grain spirits (Everclear)
?? cups simple syrup
?? cups water
The above recipe is obviously incomplete. The amount of sugar and water could vary depending on what I think it needs. My batch has been steeping in the jar for just a few days now. Once I am done steeping, I'll be ready to do some tests. The final steps will include careful filtration and then a series of taste tests for sweetening the liqueur and cutting the alcohol content. Right now, I am basically creating a high-alcohol cranberry extract. At about 95% alcohol, I will need to cut this dramatically with water to reach about 20%, but since I also need to add sugar, I plan to accomplish both goals—sweetening and diluting—using a simple syrup at a particular ratio of sugar to water. For now, I am leaving it in the jar a little longer. We still have plenty of time before the holiday season gets into full-swing, so I am not worried about timing. Check back for Part 2 when I will share the final steps, completed results, and a finished recipe!