Elderberry liqueur is easy to make, and is an ideal home made Christmas gift. Elderberries are usually free and so costs are low, and if you like you can go to town on the packaging. Don’t worry if you can’t find elderberries, blackberries will make a great liqueur, as will blackcurrants. I’ve made raspberry and strawberry versions using the same basic recipe.
Home made elderberry liqueur makes a perfect gift for foodies, gardeners and connoisseurs. I find home made elderberry liqueur works brilliantly as a gift for that person who has everything, and doesn’t want anything, but really appreciates a small, unique, economical gift that has taken time to create.
There’s something about elderberries that just screams Christmas. They produce such a beautifully colored liqueur that changes if you can stand to leave it an extra year. You can make your liqueur in September or October and have it ready to drink at Christmas, but if you’re willing to hold on, then it will be wonderful if you leave it an extra year.
It makes sense to make more elderberry liqueur than you plan to drink or give away at Christmas and keep some just settling and developing til next Christmas. That way you can compare the flavors.
The picture is of a liqueur I made in 2011 and drank this week because I needed the bottle!
Elderberries are very common in the UK and grow wild in most of the USA and Canada (unless you’re in the top left hand corner, sorry). They’ve long been used for all sorts of health promotion uses, but they’re not a viable commercial crop.
If elderberries were easy to pick you’d find them on every supermarket shelf. Whilst it’s easy to get them off the tree, it’s a little time consuming to get the individual berries off their stalks, and that’s important.
When you go elderberry harvesting take secateurs and a large shopping bag. You won’t need many, about two or three good healthy sprigs per bottle. Snip the whole clusters off. Take what you need, but don’t be greedy, leave some for the next person and for the birds.
When you get them home, you need to get the individual berries off the stalks. The easiest way is to hold the stalk in one hand and to use the times of a fork to gently run through, stripping the berries into a bowl. Don’t worry about breaking them open, they’ll be fine. Do try to get rid of all the stalk. Some berries won’t come off easily. That’s often because they’re dried up or under-ripe. You don’t want those berries anyway so leave them on the stalks and throw them in your compost.
What To Make Your Elderberry Liqueur In
The bottle your booze came in will work for storing your liqueur until you’re ready to decant. Make sure you put the lid on tightly, and that it won’t get damp. If you’re making a lot, or you don’t have another spare spirit bottle to take the extra, then these Mason jars are good value.
Put your bottles or jars somewhere dark and quiet where they won’t get disturbed too often. You do want to disturb them a bit. Give them a jiggle twice a week for the first month, until the sugar is fully dissolved, then leave them til just before Christmas.
I tend to be a bit haphazard with my liqueur making. I currently have some sloe gin on the go and some raspberry grappa. I don’t really like grappa and we had some left over from a party that had been waiting around a while, and I had some ugly raspberries that deserved to be valued for more than their looks.
You don’t need top shelf vodka for this task. I buy the cheapest own-label stuff. You will be judged if you go to you local store at 9am covered in elderberry juice and buy two bottles of their cheapest vodka, a lemon and a bag of white sugar. I know this from experience.
I used to panic and buy a few healthy groceries to balance some things up, but it’s fun to wink and say “I love it when the kids go back to school” as you pack your booze.
- 1 750 ml (3 cup) bottle of vodka
- 2 cups of elderberries
- Granulated white sugar (1/4 – 1 cup)
- Zest of half a lemon (optional)
- First drink about a third of the vodka, if you’re not up to that, or would like to use all the vodka to make liqueur, you will need to decant about a third of it. Use a jug as it will be helpful later.
- Put the elderberries into the vodka bottle, or a Kilner jar. There should still be some room in the top to add the lemon zest and some sugar.
- Sugar levels are hotly debated. I like a bit of bite to my liqueur so tend to go easy on the sugar, other people enjoy the rich mouthfeel of a syrupy liqueur. It’s a bit of a trial and error thing, but if you take sugar in your coffee and don’t recoil in sugar-overload horror when biting into a burger bun, then add more sugar. If you were born south of the Mason Dixon line you’ll want to add even more.
- I go with about a quarter cup of sugar to three cups of vodka. You can go wild with up to a cup, but remember, whilst you can always add a little more sugar and settle you liqueur down to rest for a couple more weeks, you can’t take the sugar back out.
- I generally jot down the recipe I’ve used on the bottle. Sometimes I mess that up by writing tsp instead of tbsp. This was one on those times. Write the bottling date too, as if you do forget about it, it’s good to know how old it is, not because it will go off, but just because you’ll know whether that’s the ideal aging time.
Bottling Your Elderberry Liqueur As A Gift
You can just pour yourself a glass of your home made liqueur as a treat on Christmas Eve and luxuriate in your drink making skills, but I like to give home made liqueurs as unique, personal gifts.
I’ve used tiny bottles as stocking stuffers and cracker gifts. Try 70ml bottles, that’s somewhere between a double and treble shot, so even though it’s fun sized, it’s not for festive drivers.
Strain your liqueur, pour the whole contents of the storage bottle into your gift bottle, using a straining funnel.
If you don’t have a straining funnel, and don’t want to invest you can use a regular sieve over a large jug. Depending on how good a sieve you have you may need to line it with muslin to ensure you just get a clear, bright liquid with no berry bits. If you don’t have a muslin then a handkerchief will do. A brand new one, not just a fresh out of the wash one.
Don’t throw the berries away. They make the best ice cream topping you’ve ever tasted in your life!
Have Fun With Tasting
Last Christmas we had fun with a friend who brought six samples of liqueur for us to taste-test, each labelled 1-6 and served alongside a notepad for us to write up our tasting notes. She then told us the years and the recipes she’d used for the six, giving everyone 12 post it notes, 6 with years on, 6 with recipes. We tried to match our post-its with the right samples.
Predictably, after six admittedly very small samples, we were all a little merry as we made our guesses.
This Christmas she’s getting this wine tasting kit as a gift.