Cranberry Liqueur (Steep for 3 weeks)

Cook’s Notes: Plan ahead — the cranberries must steep for 3 weeks before you can strain the mixture and add sweetener. You may wish to steep it a second time, up to one month, after you sweeten it. I start this on Thanksgiving day so it can be ready in time for Christmas. Give bottles away at holiday parties for toasting on December 24 (if people can wait that long).

This year’s timeline: Phase 1 — Start on Nov. 23. Phase 2 — Strain and sweeten on Dec. 16 (after 3.5 weeks). Bottle on Dec. 16.

I have made this several years in a row, and friends love to receive bottles of this bright red liqueur as gifts. One year, I paired bottles of cranberry liqueur with bottles of orange brandy. The red and orange colors were gorgeous together. Thanks to Gunther Anderson for sharing so much knowledge on his Web site: I learned most of what I know about making liqueurs from him.

PHASE I — initial steeping:
2 quart jars with lids
12 oz bag cranberries, fresh or frozen (about 3.25 c)
750 ml bottle vodka: 80-proof (40% alcohol), charcoal-filtered
2 cinnamon sticks
1 lemon peel
1/2 orange peel

Prepare the jars:
Wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Wash jars in hot, soapy water. Rinse well with hot water, and let air dry on paper towels. Fill a 6-qt pot three-quarters full of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Using tongs, carefully lay the jars on their sides along with their lids, in the boiling water. Boil for 15 minutes, then remove from the hot water carefully with tongs and set aside to air dry and cool on paper towels.

Initial bottling and steeping:
Using an apple peeler, carefully peel just the rind (leaving the white pith behind) from your lemon and orange. Add 1 cinnamon stick and half the citrus peels to each jar.

Chop up the cranberries with 1 c vodka in a blender, on the lowest setting, until it’s the consistency of grits. (Whole berries won’t contribute to the liqueur.) Scrape chopped cranberries evenly into the two jars. Top each jar evenly with the remaining vodka. The alcohol should cover the fruit completely.

Place lids on jars and seal. Store sealed jars in a dark place. Steep the mixture for 3 to 4 weeks, shaking lightly each day.

PHASE 2 — AT LEAST 3 WEEKS LATER:

  • 16-oz glass bottles with Grolsch-type lids or screw tops (these seal better than corks)
  • 2 c simple syrup made with equal parts sugar and water. Bring to a boil (can heat in the microwave on High for 2 minutes). Stir until all the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is clear. Let cool completely.

Strain and filter:
Prepare the additional quart jar and bottles as directed above.

Remove cinnamon stick. Place a clean jar in a flat glass dish; if any liquid spills while filtering, it will not be wasted. Line a mesh strainer with damp cheesecloth or muslin. Strain liquid with fruit slowly into clean jar. Twist the cloth to squeeze until all the liquid is through. Yield: 4 c infused vodka

Sweeten to taste
:
To taste test, add 2 T vodka with 1 T simple syrup (2:1). Taste. If it is too sweet, add 1 T liqueur. If it is not sweet enough, add 1 T simple syrup. Aim for 2 parts liqueur to 1 part sweetener (or 3:1 or 4:1).

This liqueur is good sweetened with a 2:1 ratio: add 2 c of cooled simple syrup to 4 c of the infused cranberry vodka. Stir gently to combine, and pour into clean bottles. Seal and store in the refrigerator. See storage times listed under Phase 3 below.

OPTIONAL PHASE 3 — SECOND STEEPING
You may wish to let the liqueur steep for an additional period. Aging up to a month may help mellow it a little, but drinking immediately after it is sweetened is still good.

Notes: Store liqueur in the refrigerator once it has the sweetener added. Allow the open bottle to stand open to the air for up to a half hour before serving. Gunther advises that it will last at least a year if unopened, exactly one year if opened seldom and resealed, and a few months if opened often.

Sources:
Original recipe and much good information on homemade liqueurs: http://www.guntheranderson.com

Other resources:

  • Jar prep technique: The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee (2006)
  • The Best 50 Homemade Liqueurs by by Dona Z. Meilach (1996)
  • Cordials from Your Kitchen by Pattie Vargas and Rich Gulling (1997)
  • Rosemary Gladstar, various articles on tinctures
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