Wednesday, November 27, 2013
handmade holidays 2013: chamomile liqueur
I'm pretty sure that my old high school buddy's wife doesn't read my blog. If she does, man, am I ever ruining the surprise. I had said something about growing chamomile on facebook this spring and she asked if my husband (who's got a real knack for mixology) might be able to dream up a chamomile cocktail for her, as she loves chamomile. Well, I thought, I've got to figure out a way to make a chamomile spirit. My first attempt was a bust: I used Roman chamomile (a low-growing groundcover chamomile), I think that was the first mistake. When I later reopened the jar of roman chamomile flowers that I'd dried and saved, I noticed a faint bitterness to the otherwise sweet chamomile scent. That bitterness also came to the forefront when I infused the flowers for a couple of weeks instead of a couple of days - too long, I learned, for chamomile.
So, this second time around, I used German chamomile (the standard, upright plant that people tend to think of when they think of chamomile) that I grew this summer. I only steeped the flowers for five or six days (I steeped in vodka). Then I added honey (lots of it) and water (because the alcohol content of many sweet and flavoured liqueurs is lower than the vodka's standard 40 proof). I watered down and sweetened to taste, taking tiny sips from a teaspoon after each addition until I'd reached a point that seemed to best complement the sweet and sunny chamomile flavor. The benefit of sweetening with honey (as opposed to, say, a simple syrup), is that the combination of honey and chamomile is so traditional and expected - and the amber colour of the honey only enhanced the sunny yellow colour of the liqueur.
I poured it into an old absinthe bottle and corked it. We haven't figured out how we'll get this down to Oregon yet, but we'll get it there - and a little ageing in the bottle with the honey won't do the spirit any harm. In the meantime, I've got maybe one ounce of this liqueur left over, and I've challenged Cass to dream up a cocktail and try it out. He's only got one shot, so it's got to work on the first try; I figured we'd jot the recipe down on a tag and tie it around the neck of the bottle for gifting.