At the beginning of January I set myself the task, for 2016, of clearing the cupboard of experimental aquavits, infused spirits and liqueurs. A task that was easier set than done, especially when the experimental beverage, put up with such hope and optimism two years before, turns out to be nasty and medicinal-tasting. Such was the case with a raspberry-infused brandy I found at the back of the shelf during the clean-out. It was delicious a year ago. But when I poured half an ounce into a liqueur glass to check it out, I was floored by how awful it had become. I poured another half-ounce just to be certain. Yup. Awful.
But there were three full cups of the deceptively pretty, ruby-red liquid, and I was too proud (too cheap?) to call it a bust.
And so began several hair-raising days of cocktail research and development. I mixed raspberry brandy with bourbon, birch syrup, orange bitters, and an orange twist. No go — pure cough medicine.
I tried something called “Charm and Audacity” that I found online, a cocktail that combined Cynar (I subbed Punt e Mes, a terrible waste, because you can’t get it in Whitehorse anymore) with raspberry brandy, green Chartreuse and grapefruit juice — hello, ulcer.
I brought the problem to friends and colleagues. “Make trifle!” said one. “It’s my go-to solution for unwanted booze. Just soak a cake with it.” I suggested to my editor a Valentine’s Day cocktail made with chocolate syrup, raspberry brandy and cinnamon or chocolate bitters. “Sounds like a really good icing,” she said.
So I made syrup with raspberries picked two summers ago, probably the same batch that went into the brandy. As the berries thawed they made their own juice, and I put berries and juice and some extra water into a pot and boiled them. I strained them and added sugar and boiled the juice again, and the sub-optimal, two-year-old berries became a pretty good syrup.
So then I made cocktails with raspberry brandy and raspberry syrup, though my friends warned me against it, they said raspberry takes over, that’s too much, watch out, but I ignored them and produced extra-concentrated raspberry-flavoured cough syrup.
I reached a state of fed-up-ness that bordered on fury and in that state mixed three parts raspberry brandy with one part raspberry syrup, and, lo and behold, the waters calmed and I had a liqueur. Not a brilliant liqueur, but a good one.
Pride demanded I use that liqueur, not in trifle, not in icing, but in a cocktail. One that worked. A friend advised me to look up what flavours raspberry pairs well with, and I found, among others, lemon, ginger and rhubarb. With that I built a cocktail that I can stand behind. Not a brilliant cocktail, but a good one. Thank heavens.
I gave several bottles of raspberry liqueur away, with caveats.
I believe the moral of this story, though I can’t verify it unless I try another batch next July, is make raspberry brandy, but drink it within the year. Or cut to the chase and make liqueur. And if all else fails, just soak a cake with it.
3 cups (750 mL) brandy
3 cups (750 mL) wild fresh raspberries
1 cup (250 mL) raspberry syrup
Rinse raspberries briefly and place in a clean 1L jar. Pour brandy over top. Seal jar and store in a cool, dark place for one week.
Strain and taste. (Use the raspberries in trifle.) Add raspberry syrup. Reseal the jar and let stand for a few weeks before serving.
2 cups (500 mL) fresh or frozen raspberries
2 cups (500 mL) water
¼ to ½ cup (60 to 125 mL) sugar
Bring raspberries and water to the boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain into a clean pot, reserving raspberries for muffins or smoothies. Bring juice to the boil over medium high heat and whisk in sugar, starting with ¼ cup (60 mL), and tasting until mixture is sweet but still tart. Cook at medium high for 10 minutes and pour syrup into hot, sterile jars. Seal and refrigerate when cool.
1 ½ oz. Appleton Estate Signature Blend rum
½ oz. raspberry brandy liqueur
½ oz. lemon juice
1 tsp. ginger syrup
1 dash rhubarb bitters
Stir all ingredients over ice. Strain into a double rocks glass over one big ice cube. No garnish.