Back in the day it was pretty common to whip a bottle of voddie out of the freezer and do a round of shots after dinner.
We tried most, if not all, of them. Lemon was good. Chilli and pepper were popular. Some were vile – I was left with a bottle of tangerine Absolut for some years until I finally just ditched it.
And then there was Zubrowka. For those of you who haven’t tried it, Zubrowka is a vodka that is flavoured by an infusion of bison grass. It’s got notes of vanilla, and, er … well, grass. Jilly Goolden eat your heart out. It’s lovely.
But then I kind of stopped doing shots. Certainly at home. I can’t pin down exactly when they went, but I suspect it could have been around the same time that baby #1 came along, or maybe it was around the time I occasionally and randomly had to start getting up at half-five. Those two things, as you might have guessed, were not entirely unrelated.
But anyway, there was this bottle of Zubrowka in my drinks cabinet doing nothing.
And then it dawned on me: sloe Zubrowka. That would be a thing of beauty.
I duly went out and harvested sloes. I put them in a big plastic bottle with some sugar and my bottle of bison grass vodka. I waited three months. I decanted and filtered it. I waited another year. And then, in the run-up to Christmas three years ago, I broke the seal.
And I was an instant convert to these sweet, traditional country infusions. It was little short of incredible. Every year I expanded my repertoire. Haw brandy – wow. Blackberry vodka – perhaps not. Until last year. Last year I was just too busy with work and a young family to go out and do my hedgerow harvest, and had to watch as the berries were gradually eaten by birds or shrivelled and slowly, but surely, fell to the ground. Fortunately, my stockpile was enough to see me through.
But this year, of course, I have been able to fill my boots – and my drinks cabinet. I’ve had a bumper crop of autumn raspberries – enough for jam and you guessed it, for a litre of sweet, raspberry liqueur. At the time of writing, it’s not had quite enough time to mature and mellow – but it was nevertheless amazing and everything we could have hoped when we stole a sip to see how it was coming along.
We’ll have a crowd for Christmas this year, and I will be able to offer them a choice of home-made, after-dinner stickies: raspberry, rhubarb and ginger, or marmalade.
The marmalade liqueur was made with a 1lb jar I had left from this January’s batch, no sugar as there’s enough in the preserve already, and a bottle of vodka.
The plan is to have mother giving my kids a demonstration of Irish dancing wearing the crown from a cracker. It must be nearly 70 years ago she learned it, but it always comes back to her like a flash with the right embrocation.
But don’t just take my word for it, give them a whirl yourself. They’re really easy to make. Some of them, like the straight citrus-flavoured vodkas, are ready within days. You can make them with almost any flavour you fancy. And with the rise and rise of the discount supermarket, your spirit of choice comes pretty cheap too. Fruits, spices, coffee, chocolate – and any number of spirits with which to combine them.
It’s a whole new hobby, and one that keeps you warm in winter.
Recipes abound. I’ve gleaned them from cook books, the internet, and have a copy of the River Cottage tome, Booze – which has plenty of suggestions. When you start looking, they’re easy to source.
And if you go wrong the great thing is that you can always revisit it. My blackberry vodka of 2012 is currently being reinfused with haws, sloes and rosehips for a hedgerow liqueur for Christmas 2015.
In the meantime please raise a glass to me and mine this festive season, in the hope we make it through Seven Drunken Nights with nary a fractured hip in the house.