This weekend my husband and I tried out some recipes from this awesome site: http://www.danish-schnapps-recipes.co.... So far we've made honey, basil, and tarragon schnapps.
So far the honey looks very normal and we're just letting it steep. We used wildflower honey because we couldn't find any heather honey. The tarragon schnapps is bright green and smells very tarragon-ny. The basil schnapps, however, never turned green, just kinda yellowish, although the scent of basil did come out. The recipe says to steep for only 24 hours, so we took off half of the superantant last night and left half in the jar with the basil leaves until tonight.
Does anyone have any experience making herb schnapps and know if you might get negative flavors if you allow it to steep too long? The basil we used was not as fresh as the tarragon (2 days older) - might that have kept flavors from being extracted?
Also, years ago I had the honey vodka at Fire Bird in NYC and loved it. The description in the menu said it had something like "hundreds of spices" but I have no idea what any of them are. Any advice on what spice flavors to mix with my honey schnapps (aside from the chili, rowan, apricot, stinging nettle schnapps recommended by the schnapps website)?
A great topic, one of my favorites. I have been doing a lot of playing around with spices, herbs, fruits, and even vegetables as flavorings for spirits since I am working on products to eventually make commercially. (You wouldn't believe the amount of paperwork, time, and money it takes to start a small spirits company.)
By using the term Schnapps do you mean infused vodkas/spirits or also liqueurs? Personally I feel that schnapps is such a confusing term because it is so broad. Personally I use the term infused spirit if it has no sweetener and is over 70 proof. I use the term liqueur if it has sweetener and is under 70 proof. Some spirits like limoncello can be sweet and over 70 proof. In the case of limoncello one realizes this but with some schnapps it is difficult since they have very high and very low levels of alcohol and sweetener.
I definitely agree that you shouldn't let herbs steep too long. Some herbs and spices I only let steep for a few hours. The taste can become overwhelming and also off tastes and bitter ones can emerge. BUT, some herbs and spices bring in good flavors from long steeps. I have done small batches of a many spices with a few ounces and let steep for 1,2,4,6,24 hours and filtered and tasted next to each other. If you do this and keep notes you will be amazed at some of the differences.
Spices/herbs/ingredients that would work well with honey and quickly come to mind are: cinnamon, cassia, green or white cardamom (use a very short steep), allspice, mace, clove (very short steep), vanilla, black pepper, toasted sesame seed, sage, saffron, nutmeg, caraway, ginger, and fennel.
The freshness of herbs and spices that are infused in spirits is key because stale and off flavors will be intensified, and as you mention, spices more than a few months old may have lost most of their potency.
I would like to hear what others suggestions and experiences are.
I'm going with the Danish definition of schnapps, with <100g/L of sugar. We are using 80 proof unflavored vodka for this batch of schnapps.
Wow, so yeah, I see the difference of a few hours on steeping now! We tried the 48h basil vs the 24h last night and the flavor was quite different! I liked the 24h better, as I thought the 48h had a stronger flavor but a little bitterness. So now we have to separate sets of supernantants: do you think the bitterness will be diluted out if we blend the two sets? Do you think the flavors of each set will change if we let them age separately?
I am very excited about those spice recommendations you gave for the honey - thank you! We made black pepper and are going to make cloves, and I will definitely keep in mind the point about a short steep for cloves. The recipe we have for black pepper says to steep for "2 to 8 months", which seems like such a long grace period. Would you recommend the shorter or longer end of that steeping period for black pepper?
Oh gosh, I'm going to have to try saffron too because I just got a bunch of good cheap saffron in Spain. Do you have a recommendation of steeping time for that? Does the flavor come out noticably?
You can speed up the saffron steeping and get great results if you put the spirits and saffron in a loosley sealed canning jar and give it a gently water bath in barely simmering water for ten minutes. Heating the saffron releases ten times the flavor. Just be careful.
I have done this with cranberries also and gotten a much, much better cranberry vodka and an amazing cranberry liqueur. It's like the difference in depth and complexity of flavor between an uncooked vs. a cooked cranberry sauce.
Oh, cranberry goes very well with honey.
If you crack the peppercorns they steep better. Pepper is one of the spices that give off better flavors the longer they steep but also the hotter it will be. I figure it depends upon the amount of peppercorns to alcohol for 2-8 months of steeping. I found that most of the flavor is out within a month. I have steeped peppercorns for just a few hours when all I want is a hint of pepper flavor with no heat. The good thing with steeping is that you can just open up a batch and taste test it every few days, weeks, months... If it is too strong just water it down with plain spirits, or use it as an extract to add a hint of flavor to something else.
Last year I made up around 20 different extracts of herbs and spices in large quantities. Then I mixed them together in various ways in small batches until I found combinations I liked. I kept detailed notes of exactly how much I used for each blend or recipe. I came up with some amazing infused gins that people in the liquor bizz raved about.
The flavors do mellow out with age. I wouldn't mix the 24h and 48h but see how they come out. The more detailed research you do the better your end results will be. And in this case patience is more than a virtue, it's a necessity.