Thursday, September 29, 2011

Blueberry booze, part I

Quite some time ago I was in my kitchen, wondering what to do with the mound of blueberries sitting in front of me on the counter (compliments of my mother-in-law).  Aside from eating them by the handful...blueberry crumb bars, lemon cornmeal cake with blueberry sauce, and blueberry pancakes were about all I could muster from the culinary side.  So as with other suitable surpluses of the past (lemons = lemoncello, almonds = orgeat, etc), I decided to steer this one towards the cocktail world, a blueberry liqueur would be the result of these little morsels being steeped in ethanol.  After scouring the internet for a suitable reference to a recipe, I came across a number of them and created this straightforward hybrid.

Blueberry liqueur

Blueberry liqueur
2 lbs blueberries
3 cups vodka
20 wide swaths of lemon zest
5 cloves
1 1/2 cups simple syrup

Essentially, I made the simple syrup over heat, removed it from the stove, and then added the zest...letting it steep until room temperature.  Next, I mashed/muddled the blueberries with the syrup, added the vodka, and let it macerate in the refrigerator over a number of weeks, shaking every week or so to redistribute the fruit and zest.  If memory serves me correctly, I allowed roughly 2 months before I strained and bottled it.

The final product was a bit milder than I had expected, but was still a nicely balanced combination of subtle sweetness from the blueberries and a faint citrusy edge of lemon to round it out.  I wasn't exactly sure how to use this simple preparation, but admittedly (and somewhat shamefully at that) at that point in my life, I had yet to delve into the world of mixology.  Fast forward a year or so, and while I'm by no means even close to an experienced veteran in the cocktail world, I've at least got a number of ideas on how to finally use this...other than the bland mix up with soda water.

The first thought I had was to use it along with a traditional London Dry gin, thinking the pairing would perhaps be somewhat analogous to sloe gin (which is not 'On The Shelf', but rather 'In The Queue', at this point in time).  Traditionally, sloe gin is produced by steeping sloe (blackthorn) berries, a relative of the plum which grows wild in parts of southern Germany, in gin.  Tho a bit of a misnomer, as sloe gin is not considered a class of gin but rather a flavored liqueur with a gin base, the resulting flavor of this traditional English product is a touch on the sweet side given the addition of sugar to help offset the acidity of the tart sloe berry fruit.  While commercially available sloe gins have been readily available for some time in the states, they are commonly the cheap, crappy, over-sweetened, and artificially-flavored vodka-based versions, rather than the real deal.  Thankfully, well respected brands such as Plymouth and The Bitter Truth have finally brought their renditions to the US over the last several years.   

Getting back to my thoughts on using this blueberry booze in a cocktail, instinctively I thought a spin on the Sloe Gin Fizz might work well.  As a modification of the Tom Collins (gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, soda), the Sloe Gin Fizz essentially swaps sloe gin for London Dry gin and is served up rather than over ice.  In my case, I considered a combination of blueberry liqueur, gin, lemon, and simple syrup.

Blueberry Gin Fizz
1 oz Citadelle gin
1 oz blueberry liqueur
1 oz lemon
1 oz simple syrup
2-4 oz soda water 

Shake all ingredients but the soda water with ice, strain into a chilled old fashioned glass and top with soda, gently mixing to combine.  

Blueberry Gin Fizz

This cocktail was rather straightforward, not a ton of complexity (as would be expected) but it was refreshing nonetheless...a pleasing balance of sweetness, slight citrus, and botanicals from the gin. While certainly a safe use of the blueberry, it was perhaps a little too predictable and I was striving to dig deeper without being reckless.  I knew that there were a few other cocktails which utilized sloe gin (Black Hawk Cocktail, House Call, etc) that I could take a run at, but my interest then turned to something different altogether.  Much in the way that fruit brandies and/or unaged eau de vies might be used, it occurred to me that what I had in this blueberry liqueur might be suitable as a modifier.  More on that to come in part II... 

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