In creating some of my amari, I have found that brandy is an excellent base spirit. It is mellow, it adds a little grape component to the whole process, producing results that measure up well along established amari.
But I don’t want to keep buying brandy to use it for a different liqueur. Since grain alcohol is more economical, here is a faux brandy recipe that I have developed. Side by side, the real brandy will win out, but this faux brandy base isn’t too far off.
1. Steep one cup of Thompson seedless raisins in 2 cups of 95% or 75% grain alcohol between 1 and 2 weeks. (1 week is probably enough, but see what your nose tells you.)
2. Separate the resulting infusion and discard the raisins.
3. Dilute the strength of the infusion to no more than 40% ABV. Assuming very little evaporation, you would add 2-3/4 cups of distilled water to the 95% alcohol, or 2-1/4 cup of distilled water for the 75% alcohol.
4. Pour the dilution into an oak barrel for aging (or add about 2 tbsp of toasted oak chips).
5. Let sit for 2 – 6 weeks, shaking the mixture once each day.
6. Discard oak chips or pour from the barrel and voila! You’ve got a nice base spirit for a delicious amaro.
Well, I’ve been playing with amari for well over a year now and I still have to remind myself to do things right! My thinking always goes, “start with something that’s good on its own and then tailor it to make it fabulous.” Or to translate: Try to make a delicious base by adding all the characteristics until you’ve reached a delicious base upon which to build your amaro.
Except… you know what? Don’t. That’s right. Some steps should not be rushed. This was a hard lesson for me. But this is how it went:
I created several amari from pure neutral spirits – grain alcohol, vodka, etc. And they were quite good. I also created an amaro with brandy as a base ingredient and it was definitely a different flavor – a cut above? Perhaps, but more accurately, a bit more mellow and not as harsh. I began to think that brandy might be the best way to go. But being a DIY-er, I wanted to simulate a brandy by starting with neutral spirits and concocting my own. It was a really good start. I’ll outline those steps in another post (note: it involved raisins).
But here’s where I went wrong. My simulated brandy was still very high proof – over 180. And thinking that oak mellows liquor, I added a few (very few) toasted oak chips to get that oak-mellowed vanilla noted brandy. It did not work as desired. After 5 or 6 weeks, nose to bottle smelled wonderful (if you were distant enough to where the alcohol fumes didn’t singe your sinuses). But the taste was an entirely different story. The flavor was charred. It had that bitter, pervasive charred taste that is nearly impossible to conceal. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it was enough to be obvious. The alcohol content of my DIY brandy was way too high for oaking and pulled ALL of the flavors out – good and bad. The only way to rescue it (other than discarding it) is to dilute it using more 80 proof neutral spirits and sweetener.
The lesson learned:
- Begin with your base spirit (or create one if you must) – but do not add any oak chips!
- Infuse, steep, flavor to your heart’s content.
- When you have the right combination of flavors, dilute and sweeten it to a reasonable strength (I usually opt for no more than 40% (80 proof))
- Finalize any flavors with tinctures or additional infusions
- Dilute your alcohol to the desired strength (for amaro, that’s 21% – 40%)
- Fine your liqueur
- Now OAK!
Don’t use oak in your liquor if the proof is higher than 100. You’ll regret it.
Addendum – if you’ve visited this site before and have taken note of the amaro recipe in an earlier post, you may notice that the third and fourth phases have been re-ordered. While past experimentation didn’t provide enough evidence of the importance of this order, this current post shows a hard lesson learned. The recipe has been revised and corrected. If this is your first time visiting, you have nothing to be concerned about. The recipe as it is shown now is the most accurate.