Cranberry Liqueur (Homemade)
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see note 1
1 1/2 liter sealable jar2
1 sheet cheese cloth
coffee filter or paper towel
bottles (4 cups should be enough)
1 Fresh or frozen, but don't try it with sauce. Well, it might work with cranberry sauce, but I have no idea how to compensate for the jelly and extra sweetening.
2 I use Arc jars, with metal bands and a latch-like deal which secure the glass lid to the glass body, with a rubber ring providing the seal. The mixture is a little larger than one liter, so make sure you have enough room if you don't get metric sizes.
First, clean the heck out of your jar. Any faint lingering smell will become a taste in your liqueur, and since many new jars smell like latex at first, you'll really want to make sure they're clean. Boiling water can be effective, but make sure you've warmed up your jar with merely hot water first, or it'll shatter. And if you use the rubber rings like I do, clean them as well. You can't spend enough time cleaning.
Chop up the cranberries in a blender or food processor, on the lowest setting, until it's the consistency of grits (Cream of Wheat, for you Northerners). We recently bought a Cuisinart Classic, and it made the chopping process a breeze. Make sure they're all chopped up; any berry still whole won't contribute to the liqueur. Pour into jar. Scrape pith from the lemon and orange peels with an apple peeler (or whatever, but be thorough - the white pith leaves a bitter taste), and put the peels in the jar. Pour vodka in the jar. If you're using the optional spices, add them to the mix as well. Boil sugar and water together; when the sugar is all dissolved, let stand a minute and pour into jar. Seal the jar quickly, lest the alcohol burn off. Let the mixture steep for 4 weeks, shaking lightly each day. Store in a dark place.
Note: When I was working with the blender, I found that it was slightly easier if I poured most of the chopped cranberries into the steeping container, and then washed out the remaining bits from the blender jar using the vodka.
After steeping, take the jar out and line your big funnel with your cheese cloth. Put some other jar-like thing underneath the funnel, or you will pour your mixture all over your tabletop, which is not recommended (I have tried it myself). Pour mixture through cheese cloth. Gather up the corners of the cloth, and squeeze the solid material remaining of all the liquid your strength can muster (if you're using cinnamon stick, remove it before squeezing). Filter again through this funnel, lined with a coffee filter or paper towel, to get all the lingering solids out. Paper towels are more porous and let larger particles through, but it goes an awful lot faster. Solids remaining aren't too much of a problem; they'll leave yellow rings around the inside of your bottle after a month or two, but they don't affect the taste that I've noticed. Occasionally, you might also see some extra cloudiness at the bottom of your bottles after a few weeks. Shake them moderately before serving to redistribute the material.
Before bottling, clean the heck out of your bottles, too, for precisely the same reasons you cleaned your jar. Pretty bottles aren't necessary, but they do tend to make your audience more disposed to liking the contents. Pour the liquid into your bottle, cork, and you're done. Aging a month may help mellow it a little, but drinking immediately is still quite good. Notably, one friend of mine who had kept a bottle for an entire year said it had matured fabulously. The optional spices have gotten rave reviews from all but one of my tasters, who thought the original was still the best. The spices definitely impart a winter-holiday feel to the drink. I have also been told that allowing the liqueur to breathe before serving greatly improves the taste. That is, open the bottle and let it stand open to the air for up to a half hour before serving. This does cut down on the lifetime of the bottle, of course, but it tends to get the bottles emptied sooner rather than later.
Yield: about 4 cups
This stuff will last at least a year if unopened (none of mine have remained unopened for more than a year), exactly one year if opened seldomly and resealed, and a few months if opened often. If you're unsure, just make sure it all gets drunk at the first opening. Works for me.
One other issue: corking. Corks are porous, and will allow your alcohol to slowly evaporate, and contribute to the decay of your liqueur over time. I'm looking into sealing the bottles with paraffin after corking them to try and combat this problem. But don't be fooled into thinking that corks can preserve your liqueurs indefinitely.