Spiced Elderberry Whisky Liqueur

A deep red, warmly spiced drink which tastes delicious drunk neat in tiny glasses (it is strong!) or as a nurturing hot toddy if you are feeling under the weather during the winter months. It makes a great cocktail too, try mixing with ginger beer.

Rich with vitamins, elderberries have been used for centuries to make healing brews for winter colds and chills. I like to think the healing properties are in this spicy cordial, especially as it also includes herbs and fruit well known for their medicinal benefits. I use it as a ‘cure’ for colds, flu and wintry bugs. I can’t say for certain that a glass of this beside the fire on a dark January day does count as one of your ‘five a day’, but is certainly feels good.

I have been making versions of this delicious brew for about 12 years now. All I remember is that it is based on a recipe from Michigan. My children were smaller then and life is so busy with young children, time flies. You think “Oh, I’ll make a note of that” and then suddenly it is 12 years later on and they are all grown up! And so I don’t quite recall how I first came across mixing whisky with elderberries and  spices.

Made now, this will be ready by mid December, ideal for festive gifts.

You will need

a litre of whisky or bourbon

a litre of elderberries

peel of an organic orange (so you know there’s no chemicals or waxes on it)

peel of an organic lemon

a piece of fresh ginger root, about the length of your thumb

6 cardamon pods

12 cloves

1 long stick of cinnamon (or 2 shorter ones)

100g unbleached sugar

A very large glass jar with a lid, throughly cleaned.

(This works perfectly well with defrosted home-frozen elderberries).

The quantities need not be exact; if you have just over or under a litre of fruit that’s fine too. To vary the flavours, reduce the elderberries and add blackberries or ripe rose hips (top and tail the rose hips before adding to the brew). All of these fruit are full of vitamins and autumnal gorgeousness.

I won this bottle of whisky last winter in a local raffle, so is has been waiting on my shelf for 8 months until it was elderberry season again. I always use a single malt but blended is fine if you prefer (as with all infused liqueurs steer clear of really cheap spirits, the hangover is not worth it). This recipe will also work with brandy, rum, gin or vodka – the flavour will be different of course but the warmth and spiciness will still comfort and cheer.

These big preserving jars are very useful for infusing larger quantities of homemade liqueurs. I bought them online, they are about the size of an old fashioned sweetshop jar.

I buy unbleached organic cane sugar in bulk for much of my preserving. Ordinary white will work perfectly well, darker sugars will add another dimension to the drink. You could also try honey, instead.

If you prefer, use 2 oranges or 2 lemons instead. Squeeze the peeled fruit and store the juice in a jam jar in the fridge until tomorrow morning. Dilute with some warm water, add  a spoonful of honey if desired, and sip – a refreshing way to start the day.

Roughly chop the peel and ginger.

You can vary the spices too, according to personal taste.

Crush the cardamon pods gently with the side of a knife, being very careful with fingers of course – or use something much safer such as a jar or rolling pin, if making this with children.

A wide mouthed preserving funnel is great for making sure that all of the ingredients end up in the jar and not all over the table and floor. I have been there (it is amazing how far squashed elderberry can travel when attached to socks!) and now have a funnel for almost every occasion.

Pour the ingredients into the jar, layering them thus:

Next, pour in the whisky.

Stir thoroughly and admire!

Replace the lid. Put your beautiful brew away from direct sunlight but somewhere you’ll see it fairly regularly so you can shake it every now and then. I store my brews on the dresser in the living room.

Leave for 3-4 months, strain through a sieve or muslin lined colander and store in labelled glass bottles. It will last for a very long time, but is usually gone by the following elderberry season 🙂

I can’t show a photo of the finished liqueur as it was finished long ago!

8 thoughts on “Spiced Elderberry Whisky Liqueur”

  1. Thank you Stephanie for the wonderful recipe . I picked my Elderberries this morning so I’m just about to make it …..roll on 3 months time xxx

  2. Looks amazing, I would prefer to make it without imported ingredients tho, I live in Wales – any suggestions for alternatives to citrus peel and spices?

    1. Stephanie Hafferty

      You could use strongly scented herbs such as lemon verbena (I’m drying mine now for winter use), rosemary, one of the citrus flavoured thymes. Dried apples or pears would add an extra dimension too. The flavour will be different of course.

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