Sunday, 11 July 2010

How to make Blackberry Vodka

So - the hair colour post?  Interesting comments.   I shall take them all under advisement and ponder some more how I want to approach this.  There will be some dithering.  But, in the meantime, I'm finally going to get round to doing the post I promised god knows how many months ago.

This is a post that you will (if you're sensible and know what's right) love me for.  That's me all over, see - kind to small animals and generous to a fault (*cough*).  For what I'm about to impart here is nothing less than how to make fabulous Christmas/birthday/whatever gifts for those difficult people.  But only if they drink.  Also, this is a brilliant gift for blokes in general and more fun than any god-awful 'comedy' present that I can think of.

You may bleat that it's a bit early to start thinking of Christmas and to a lazy person it probably is but you, my fabulous readers, are all hardworking and industrious and extraordinarily creative so this'll be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy and not at all difficult-difficult-lemon-difficult.  Actually there are only two things in my life where I'm preposterously well-organised - one is the week's menus that I mentioned in passing recently, and the other is sorting out Christmas presents.  Apart from making Blackberry Vodka (which I actually started in April), I've already got a coupla presents stashed away for relatives.  Yes, I know, you want to stab me - I get that a lot.

However, if you do fancy giving this a go (and I recommend it), then now is a good time.  This is a vodka/liqueur that can be made with practically any soft fruit and it's raspberry and blackcurrant picking time RIGHT NOW.  Strawberries have just gone over, if you're growing them yourself or going to a pick-your-own, that is.  Obviously you can buy them all year round in the supermarket, but there's something a bit more satisfying about making this with fruit you've grown and/or picked yourself.  So, raspberries and blackcurrants are picking now, loganberries and tayberries will be soon, as will early blueberries (ooh, blueberry vodka!).  Blackberries aren't ready until nearer August and September when you can pick kilos of them from the hedgerows so if you want to focus on blackberries, there's enough time to start saving bottles.


Bottles - you can pretty much use any kind of bottle as long as it has a secure cap.  Most wine bottles these days have screw caps rather than corks so they'd be fine.  Personally I'd use clear glass ones so  you can see the lovely colour of the vodka, especially if you're giving them for gifts.  Soak the empty bottle to get the label off.

Sugar - caster is best.

Fruit - whatever kind of soft fruit you fancy using.  I'm going with blackberries for this post.  Actually, I'm using frozen blackberries that I picked last September.  Frozen fruit works well so if you pick too many berries this year, bung the excess in the freezer to make more vodka later on - win!

Vodka - there's no need to buy expensive Stoly or Grey Goose (unless you particularly want to) because you're going to be flavouring it with fruit and sugar anyway.  All you want it for is the alcohol content so you might as well go for the cheap-ass stuff.  For example, in Sainsburys at the moment, 70cl of Smirnoff Red Label is £13.48, whereas their basic range vodka is £7.97 for 70cl. Lidl is probably even cheaper.

Let's get started, shall we?

1.  Get your empty bottle, preferably now label-less (okay, I just turned my bottle round here but then I'm keeping this one for me and TLH to drink, and we don't care that the label's still on it - we're more interested in what's inside the bottle than stuck on the outside but if you want to gift it, as I said, label-less is more purty)

2.  Weigh the empty bottle.  This will become clear in a bit:

This one weighs 343g, as you can see.

3.  Get your washed fruit that you've picked over to remove any yukky bits (small sticks, dead insects, mouldy bits).  As mentioned above, I'm using some frozen blackberries that I picked last year:

4.  Stuff as much fruit as you like into the bottle.  Some of my blackberries were a bit too big but because they were frozen I just left them a second and as they started to defrost was then able to push them down the neck.  I reckon about half a bottle full is pretty good:

5.  Weigh the bottle again:

This is because you need to put in the same amount of sugar as there is fruit.  As you can see, bottle and fruit together weigh 504g.  So by subtracting the weight of the empty bottle (343g) from that, we get the weight of the fruit - 161g.

6.  Weigh out the caster sugar:

7.  Add sugar to the bottle.  When I did this first last year, I'd got to this stage and then realised I didn't have a narrow enough funnel to get the sugar down the neck.  Pouring it straight from the jug doesn't work, it tends to go everywhere so you do really need a funnel.  I compromised by cutting the top off a tonic water bottle, like so:

and then holding it on top of the bottle:

It works well and I don't get sugar everywhere.  So, the sugar has been added:

8.  Add the vodka.  If you've a steady hand you can probably pour it directly from one bottle into the other but I can be a bit clumsy so I use a jug as it's easier to control:

Give it a bit of a shake to loosen the sugar up from the bottom and you'll see it start to change colour.  You may have to top it up a bit as the vodka sinks down into the fruit and sugar:

9.  Put a label on it, saying what it is, and date it.  Store it somewhere cool and dark (I use a wine rack in the garage) and - MOST IMPORTANT - shake the bottle once a week for about three months to ensure that all the sugar has dissolved and the flavour is dissipating nicely.  You can shake the bottle more than once a week, if you really, really want to, but once a week is fine.  I got into the habit of giving them a good shake (ooh, matron....) every time I went into the garage.

Now - and this is EVEN MORE IMPORTANT - if you're using blackberries, you need to filter the blackberries out after three months.  If you're using raspberries (and probably other soft fruit as well) you don't have to do this, you can leave the berries in there.  This is because blackberries have a core (raspberries leave the core behind on the plant when you pick them, so you sort of just get a raspberry hat, or perhaps wig.  Yes, I quite like the idea of a raspberry wig) and the blackberry core will make the flavour go woody after 3 months and we don't want woody vodka now, do we? I would suggest making a note on your calendar or diary to remind yourself to do this.

I made a batch of Blackberry Vodka back in the middle of April so that means it's now time to filter them out. This batch are going to be Christmas presents this year and I've used smaller 50cl bottles ('cos I'm a cheapskate).

10.  Tip out the vodka into a jug through a sieve.  It can be a bit of a fiddle getting all the fruit back out, but back out it has to come:

You can see that the berries have had quite a lot of colour leached out of them and are a fairly unappetising pinky-browny colour.  Bizarrely they also don't taste that great so there's no point in keeping hold of them to add to, say, ice cream because it doesn't work (this only applies to blackberries - I was once given a bottle of raspberry vodka that some friends had made, and the raspberries had been left in it.  Once the vodka had been drunk, we tipped out the raspberries and did, indeed, eat them on top of ice cream and they were delicious):

11.  If you want to you can now mash the fruit, either with a spoon or your hands, through the sieve to extract more juice.  This will, though, make the finished vodka more cloudy (although I suppose it might sink to the bottom as sediment) so if you'd rather it was clearer, don't do this.  I did though:

And then chucked the smushed fruit away.

12.  Pour the filtered vodka back into the bottle it came from:

And ponder what to do with the little hairs and stuff at the bottom of the jug - they'll settle to the bottom of the bottle if you pour them back in, but you might as well slosh them down the sink:

13.  You'll find you need to top the bottle up with plain ordinary vodka, but that's no hardship, is it?

The idea now is that you're meant to store the finished product away for a year to let it mature but that's madness.  I made blackberry vodka last August, filtered it in October and gave it away as presents in December and it was bloody fab.

And that's all there is to it.  I hope you decide to have a go because it's unbelievably simple to make and it would be a rare and ungrateful person indeed not to be thrilled to receive a bottle.  So if you've got male friends or relatives who are tricky to buy for, bung 'em a bottle of this instead.  Who wouldn't be excited to get this:

PS.  The delightfully fragrant and fecund Antonia has asked in the comments about labels.  I have a fancy-schmancy Dymo Labelwriter that I use for my jewellery-related activities, so I just use that, but you can get blank labels for jam-making from places like Robert Dyas or Lakeland Plastics, although they might be a bit pricey for what they are.  I've just done a quick bit of searching online and on currently you can pick up a box of 250 self-adhesive white address labels very cheaply (anywhere from 89p to £4.99 for the whole box) that you can just write on, like this:

 Alternatively, Avery do A4 sheets of pre-cut labels that you can print on but I believe that's a bit fiddly as you waste lots of sheets trying to get Word to line it all up properly, so then you have to look for labelling software and you end up wishing you'd just bought the roll of address labels instead.

PPS.  I've also been thinking about other fruit that could be good - peaches, for example.  But then you have to consider the filtering aspect.  Whole berries (blueberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, blackberries) are easy to filter out and you can just use an ordinary sieve, like I did above.  But softer fruit, such as peaches, apricots, strawberries, mango, lychees, might be more problematic.  I've never used them and it may be that you find the fruit dissolves altogether and just leaves a sediment, or the pieces of fruit may stay more whole.  Should you decide you want to filter it out, you could use a jelly strainer (if you have one - it's a bag made of extremely fine mesh that you suspend over a bowl, you use it in jam-making to filter out pips to make clear jelly-type jams):

or if you don't have one of those handy, I imagine using a paper coffee filter might also work:

I do quite like the idea of peach vodka so I might give it a go!  If you decide to try a soft-fruit version yourself, do please let me know how it goes.


Antonia Cornwell said...

I am absolutely definitely doing this. I shall store it away until this giant baby is weaned. Hooray!

Where did you get your lovely personalised label(s)?

Mrs Jones said...

Oh do! It really is monumentally easy to make & recipients will be so impressed. You could experiment with different fruit too.

I have a Dymo Labelwriter but you can get A4 sheets of ready cut labels that can use Word. It might just be easier to get jam making labels from places like Lakeland Plastics & just write on them.

peevish said...

I, also, am excited to try this. Thank you very much for the detailed instructions. I don't want to stab you, I want to kiss you! And drink vodka. But perhaps I've said too much... Well, that's normal.

sam said...

crazy, crazy - you should write your own book on detailed recipes you've tried. will i try this recipe out? if i can be arsed to get the fruit which maybe i will this year because i've got some time coming up that needs to be filled. we'll have to compare the results at christmas...

Anonymous said...

Does it work just as well if you simply drop your smartphone in a bottle of Russky Standart?

Daniel Lawson - Manager, Bell Rock Hotel said...

Hi, I've followed your instructions to the letter and made up some Blackberry Vodka & used the same principle for Gin at the same time. Can't wait to try them!
A quick question if I may please? How long should I expect before the sugar all disolves? It all seems to have disolved after just a week... but I did give if a couple of vigourous shakes!!

Mrs Jones said...

Hi Daniel - I think the sugar dissolves very quickly so the continued agitation helps to release the juice from the berries I would imagine. Anyway, every recipe I've read about making fruity vodkas insists you shake the bottles on a regular basis, and who am I to argue? Don't forget you'll need to filter out the blackberries after 3 months or so. I've also made raspberry gin and damson gin this year too (as well as blackberry wine but that's a different animal altogether). Good luck with it .... actually you don't really need luck as (sticking my neck out here) I think the recipe I've followed above is pretty foolproof, but let me know how it comes out - I reckon it's drinkable once the blackberries are out, so that's 3 months from starting it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Mrs Jones, loved this blog about blackberry just about to embark on a session of fruit vodkas myself... A friend has kindly swapped me some demijohns for a tattoo, and i have access to many fruit trees, so wish me luck and keep up the good work! will keep popping by your site to check for new ideas...


Mrs Jones said...

Lyn - hello! I must say I thoroughly approve of bartering demijons for a tatt - are you giving the tatt or receiving? I'm SO tempted to get myself another one.... Good luck with the vodka and don't panic, it's dead easy!

Anonymous said...

This just what I wanted! I was going to make bramble jelly, as I have had a bee in my bonnet about doing that this year, but I had some excess blackberries so have now bottled up one bottle. The trouble is now I am wondering whether just to use the others in the same way! No, no must make jelly...then go back out and pick more for vodka!! Would you mind if I posted a link to this post on my blog?

Mrs Jones said...

Hi Jennie - Hooray! Another satisfied customer! If I were you, and if you have the time (which I don't this year, unfortunately) I'd pick all the berries I can while they're available and just freeze them. I've still got about a kilo and a half in the freezer from last year that I've yet to use up, so I think they'll be the ones to go in this year's blackberry vodka. By all means post a link - tutorials are there to tute!

jecca said...

Also a great fan of blackberry vodka though I make mine in big jars and decant later. A pair of tights is good for straining so long as you have somewhere to hang it from. I too thought the fruit a bit too rank to use afterwards but have since been told that chucked in with a bit of apple it makes a knock-out crumble. Delicious neat and excellent in champagne.

Anonymous said...

We followed the instructions for the blackberry vodka, came out quite well. Our latest effort was with cherries. Looks a bit like cough mixture, gave some away for Christmas and have had the 'empties' returned for reloads. Latest batch might be 'watered' down..... Too much vodka, (is that possible)...... Plan to enter it in the village produce show this summer. Thanks for the instruction. Peter

kate said...

I made this from frozen blackberries..... blinking perfect! thanks so much for the recipe, going to make more for sure!

Anonymous said...

Have just tried mine with blackcurrants one week ago and it's a lovely colour already. 3 months is a long wait! One bit of advice - dont use a lidl vodka bottle... The lid is NOT secure!

WILL said...

Strange thing happened: Put 1kg blackberrys in a pan and brought to a boil. Turned of heat and but through a muslin overnight. Got about a pint of juice. Nextday bottled juice with 75cl Putinoff Vodka from Lidl. Yesterday I found bits of red jelly in the Vodka. I remember my mum used to test jam with meths to see if it would set. Maybe the vodka has made the juice set?

Anonymous said...

Last year I picked 10lb of blackberries without even thinking about it. The jam was delicious! This year the wife of one of my clients told me about blackberry vodka so I thought I'd try it. I went out today and pick copious quantities of berries and I now have batches of vodka rum and brandy in the cellar ready for Christmas. I used Kilner jars, £9.99 for 3 x 1 litre ones from Hobbycraft. Thanks for the advice about the woody cores though, other recipe sites say the fruit is suitable for icecream topping. We will see.

salbuvik said...

Made the vodka last year and it was fabulous. Thank you for sharing.Blackberry crop was terrible this year so using frozen. Wish me luck

Mrs Jones said...

Katie - hooray for fabulous vodka! I didn't manage to get out this year to pick any blackberries at all so have just made this year's Christmas vodka using some frozen ones from last year. It will be fine. The only minor difference to using fresh that might occur is a slightly increased amount of water from the defrosting, but it should really be negligible. A way around that could be to defrost the blackberries first and drain off the liquid before stuffing them in the bottle but I can't be arsed to do that! Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

I have 3 bottles of blackberry vodka which have infusing for 5 weeks, not getting to the stage where I am struggling not to tuck into them! HELP, desperately want to save them for Xmas! Also done several bottles of sloe gin but gettingt he sloes this year has been hard. Although it has been a great year for blackberries, the sloes seem to have been few and far between. Thanks for your suggestions, will let you know how it all turns out( if I can type after trying at Xmas and if it lasts til then!) Bill

Anonymous said...

What can I say, apart from WOW!! I've just decanted my first attempt at Blackberry Vodka, and it tastes out of this world! 6 pretty little glass flasks as Christmas presents, and half a Kilner Jar full left for me hic! Just need to keep my hands off it till the festive season..... Thank you so much for the recipe, its amazing!
Terri xx

Anonymous said...

Followed instructions but one week after bottling there is a load of sediment at the bottom of one bottle and the drink appears cloudy, the second seems to have some jellified looking substance floating about in it! Where did I go wrong?Is this safe to drink or should I bin it?

Anonymous said...

I have made this also and have sediment and have filtered lots of times through a muslin type cloth used to filter wine but still have sediment at bottom of bottle, what else can I do or use to get rid of this????

Mrs Jones said...

Okay - a few folks have had sediment. I've never had this problem with any of the bottles I've made so I've no idea. As for filtering, if muslin cloth isn't working, then maybe old fashioned paper coffee filters? Or it may just be a case that if the sediment settles to the bottom of the bottle, then decant it off leaving the sediment behind, as one has to do when making wine. Sorry I can't be of more help but if anyone else finds a decent solution, maybe they could post it here? Merry Christmas all!!

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paula said...

Dear Mrs Jones,
Thank you for sharing this. It is fabulously informative, and the instructions are dead clear, even for me. It is the best Blackberry Liqueur receive I have seen.
I shall be doing this tomorrow!!
Greetings from Devon!

Paula said...

Recipe not receive. My apple is not behaving!

Antonia Cornwell said...

I am doing this! Only four years after saying I would! The baby is at school and I had 6lb of blackberries in the freezer and several empty posh bottles, so no excuses. There are two bottles of blackberries and sugar sitting in the kitchen now! It is happening! Merry Christmas!

Mrs Jones said...

Hooray, Antonia! Giant, hairy babies can get in the way of SO many things!

Melanie said...

Would it be inappropriate for the children to give this to their teachers as Christmas presents? They picked the berries and weighed the ingredients, just might have to be mummy that samples the final product though, just to make sure!!! Thank you for the recipe, such a great idea :)