Saturday, December 7, 2013

Quaffable Gifting

(From Left to Right) Double Raspberry, Black Pepper Vodka, Ruut, Lemon-Lime, Blueberry Cinnamon
Photograph by A. Schloss

Of all the potable gifts that one can brew at home, liqueurs are the fastest, easiest, and most versatile. Liqueurs are liquors (distilled spirits) that have been flavored with sugar, and aromatics, like herbs, spices, nuts, flowers, fruit, seeds, vegetables, roots, and/or bark. 

Lemon Drop
Photograph by A. Schloss
Flavoring alcohol is straightforward. Most liqueurs use neutral grain alcohol, such as vodka, as a base, although I use a variety of bases including, rum, tequila, whiskey, vermouth, and wine. Cut or break the flavorful ingredients into small pieces to expose lots of surface area to the alcohol and add sugar syrup. I have found that adding sugar in the initial stages of tincturing slows down the transference of flavor into the alcohol. So when using a flavorful sugar, like brown sugar, agave,or honey that has aromatic elements that need to infuse into the liquor base, I add the sweetener in the first step, but when using plain sugar syrup I add the sugar after the initial tincturing is complete.

Add the booze
Photograph by A. Schloss
Once the ingredients are combined with alcohol the chemical power of alcohol takes over. Alcohol has the ability to bond with both water-soluble and fat-soluble molecules, which gives it awesome power to attract and hold on to flavor molecules. Flavor molecules can be either water- or fat-soluble. When you are flavoring a recipe your cooking medium largely determines what flavors emerge. Boil garlic in water and the results are largely sweet. Saut√© the same amount of garlic in oil and the sugars are unnoticeable, but the garlicky pungency can be overwhelming. But soak a flavorful ingredient in alcohol and the solubility of its flavorful components doesn’t matter – everything ends up in the booze.

The following recipe for Coco-Loco (page 182 of Homemade Liqueurs and Infused Spirits) is my copycat version of Creme de Cacao. Transparent and barely tinted, it is the disembodied spirit of roasted cocoa. Before anyone asks me if you can substitute easily-accessible cocoa powder for somewhat-hard-to-find cocoa nibs, unfortunately, I have to shout "NO!" Cocoa powder is defatted, and therefore can lend only a ghost of chocolate aroma to the booze. Cocoa powder makes richly colored, bitter tasting, odorless chocolate liqueur. On the other hand, cacao nibs, which are cracked unsweetened cocoa beans, contain all the chocolatey richness cocoa has to give. Liqueurs made from cacao nibs are somewhat pale in color but embody the very essence of chocolate flavor. Cocoa nibs are available through good groceries and countless sites online.
Coco-Loco Set Up
Photograph by A. Schloss
A word about sweetness: I add just enough sugar to intensify the cocoa's essence but far less than you will find in most commercial creme de cocoas. Also, for this post, I switched from the plain simple syrup I used in the book to a syrup made with dark brown sugar, just to goose up the caramel notes (I can never leave well-enough alone). Gift the liqueur in a decorative bottle with a martini shaker and the recipe card for Coco-Loco Martinos that follows.

Homemade Liqueurs, Page 182 - 183
Photograph by A. Schloss

Coco-Loco (Copycat Creme de Cacao)

Makes about 1 quart

1 fifth (750 ml/3.2 cups) vodka (80 to 100 proof)
1½ cups (7 1/2 ounces) cacao nibs
1 vanilla bean, split
1¼ cups Brown Simple Syrup (see recipe)

Combine everything in a half-gallon jar. Stir to moisten. Seal the jar and put it in a cool, dark cabinet until the liquid smells and tastes strongly of chocolate, 3 to 5 days.

Strain the solids from the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a clean quart container. Do not push on the solids to extract more liquid. You should have about 3 cups.

Seal and store in a cool, dark cabinet. Drink or gift within 2 years. 

Photograph by A. Schloss

Brown Simple Syrup

Makes 3 cups

2¼ cups water
2¼ cups dark brown sugar

Mix the water and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar is all moistened. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove from the heat and let cool. Refrigerate and use within 3 months.

Coco-Loco Martino

Cocktail Shaker
Chilled Cocktail
Ice cubes
Fill shaker
2 oz vodka
Add to shaker and shake; wait for 1 minute; shake again; strain into chilled cocktail glass
1 oz Coco-Loco liqueur
Split Vanilla Bean


  1. Andrew, if I wanted to reduce my batch size is it an even ratio? For example, can I just do a half or quarter batch or do I reduce the liquids, keep the solids and reduce the tincturing time?

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