I had a lot of fun earlier this year making my own gin, tonic water and flavoured vodkas, so I decided to try out a few homemade festive drinks to present to deserving friends this Christmas.
Sloe gin and other fruit-soaked spirits can be particularly tasty: we currently have a batch of damsons in a mix of vodka and gin; both fruits and liquid are delicious. These take a month or more to make, so it’s too late to start now in time for Christmas. Don’t worry though: plenty of speedier options are available. Buy some nice bottles, design a few cool labels and you will have instant presents for your loved ones.
Last-minute drink options include Limoncello (which takes 2-3 weeks, so you should just have enough time) and Amaretto. Some very complicated recipes include dried apricot kernels and lengthy ageing, but others use almond essence. My version, with almond essence and sugar, was fine and instant, although I am not an Amaretto expert. The three recipes on these pages were easy to make and proved popular in my mini-tasting.
Alternatively, you could give someone the means to make their own drink. Deveney’s, Dundrum and beerbox.ie are offering a range of Brooklyn Brew Shop beer-making kits priced at €50, containing everything you need to make your own craft beer.
Wilson on Wine 2016 by John Wilson is now available to buy from irishtimes.com/ irishtimesbooks
SPICED PEAR VODKA
1 cinnamon stick
a few slices of fresh ginger
2 pears, cored and cut into chunks
This sounded nice. I began tasting after a few days, but I wanted a vodka with plenty of pear flavour, so I removed the cinnamon and left it for 10 days. It still needed something so I added a slug of whiskey which really helped.
Recipes: Time to make, bake and give
Put all of the ingredients into a jar or bowl. Cover or seal and put in a cool place. Once you are happy with your flavours, strain through a double muslin cloth into a clean bottle. A very pleasant winter drink.
IRISH CREAM LIQUEUR
350ml Irish whiskey
250ml single cream
300g condensed milk (sweetened)
a few drops of vanilla extract
3 teaspoons chocolate sauce
1 teaspoon instant coffee
Bailey’s, the original Irish Cream Liqueur, is one of the best-selling liqueurs in the world. It has been copied by many, but I always assumed that mixing cream and whiskey was a complicated process best left to the professionals.
The internet is coming down with recipes. They all seem simple; just put whiskey, cream and a few flavourings into a blender and whizz for 20 seconds.
Most recipes include condensed milk and vanilla essence; some add chocolate syrup, instant coffee, almond essence, eggs and even melted chocolate.
You can experiment by starting with a base of whiskey and cream. Adding condensed milk adds sweetness (this is not a diet-friendly drink) and texture.
I left out the almond essence, but chocolate sauce and vanilla extract are essential. I find most cream liqueurs too sweet, so I used only about 300g of condensed milk, rather than the recommended 400g. The results were delicious.
Simply combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Pour into bottles and keep in the fridge. Apparently it keeps for two months.
CHRISTMAS PUDDING VODKA
Bottle of vodka
300g dried fruits (mix of raisins, sultanas, currants)
70g caster sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
a few good grates of nutmeg
2 teaspoons mixed spice
zest of one orange, finely grated
zest of an unwaxed lemon, finely grated
I was intrigued by a number of spiced vodkas, and this Christmas pudding vodka in particular. What could be more festive?
Mix all of the above in a bowl, or put into a jar. Place in fridge or somewhere cool for three days, then start to taste. Some recipes call for two weeks, but I found three days plenty.
Strain through a double layer of muslin into clean bottles. It comes out a warm brown colour.
BOTTLES OF THE WEEK
Ch. du Bascou 2010, Saint Mont, 14%, €18.95
Lovely firm muscular blackcurrant fruits, with hints of leather and chocolate. With a steak or duck breast.
Stockists: Cases Wine Warehouse, Galway. cases.ie
Pago de los Capellanes 2014, Ribera del Duero Joven,13.5%, €21.95
A delightful combination of ripe plum fruits with a touch of oak. Smooth, velvety and very sophisticated.
Stockists: Mitchell & Son, Sandycove, Chq and Avoca, Kilmacanogue.