Botanical is somewhat redundant in the title to this post. Amy Stewart tells us, in the introduction to The Drunken Botantist, that you can stand in a liqueur store and assign almost everything to a genus and species. However, I’m not talking about the base ingredient that forms the spirit, but a botanical infusion of that spirit.
I sometimes think of them as tasty tinctures. Tinctures are generally made from Everclear (a high proof grain alcohol that melts your eyes) or cheap vodka. The alcohol is mixed with dried herbs or flowers or mushrooms to extract some medicinal properties (for around 4-6 weeks) and then strained out. A double extraction will then boil that strained out plant material and use that water to dilute the alcohol extract to around 20% alcohol. Making tinctures is all well and good, providing a concentrated and powerful concoction, but they often taste nasty. That’s when I started using high quality alcohols and infusing with botanicals.
Turkey Tail Rye Whiskey
Come fall I always get a good bottle of rye whiskey and steep a jar full of turkey tail mushrooms for about a month or two. By the time we enter cold (and cold) season my rye whiskey has taken on a deep earthy, mushroomy flavor. It’s great straight but is also a super ingredient in any hot toddy.
I have a favorite vodka made out of Durham NC called Bedlam Vodka. It’s a rice vodka and is really delicious on its own. Any arrangement of herbs can lead you in any number of directions, so I encourage experimentation. I’ve used lime leaves, basil, tulsi basil, moringa and mint. In 2018, I branched out and infused a bunch of okra flowers, which could branch off into using any edible flower and creating a mix of colored vodkas. The amazing thing with the okra flower vodka is the deep red color that I created.
Making My Own Gin
I’m quite a fan of gin, especially a good gin and tonic. In fact, just the other day on the way to daycare Emily and I were practicing rhymes.
Me: What rhymes with tree.
Emmy: Can I have a clue?
Me: What does Daddy like to drink in the morning? (cleverly thinking either tea or coffee woould work).
Emmy: Gin and tonic.
I’m not sure if I knew what gin and tonic was when I was three…
Again referring to The Drunken Botanist, gin is simply, “A high-proof, vodkalike alcohol flavored with juniper and other natural flavoring.” Juniper is generally Juniperus communis in the Cypress family (hence its piney type taste) and is the common European juniper, but Botany in a Day lists 60 known species within the genus Juniperus and 15 native to the USA. I have a botanist friend who started a District Distilling (a distillery in DC). She was excited about all the wild junipers found in the USA. One of their gins is called Wild June and their website states:
Using wild-foraged junipers from West Texas Mountains. Molly Cummings, part owner and a Biology Professor at the University of Texas, carefully foraged by hand for the junipers. Unlike most gins worldwide that use the same Juniper species, our Wild June highlights the rugged, Red berry Juniper, that can only be found in America. Our distiller tamed the unusual wild foraged junipers to enrich each of the other botanicals of Wild June.
Okra Flower Gin
I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to making okra flower gin. I think for a long time I had the notion of making a distilled gin, which is when the alcohol is mixed with the botanicals and then redistilled to get a flavored but clear spirit. I don’t have a still though and after a recent return to England, where creative gin flavors have taken off in a big way, I decided to go the traditional route of simply infusing vodka with juniper and other flavorings.
Batch number one is:
- 2 cups of vodka
- 2 tablespoons of juniper berries
- 2 tablespoons of dried and crushed okra flowers
- 1 tablespoon of hawthorn berries
The hardest part is waiting for it to be ready!