I'm trying to make some homemade liqueurs, and was wondering if I could improve somewhat on the rather crude traditional methods. I'm doing this by the lazy-and-legal method: in short, buying commercial alcohol and flavoring it with various fruits spices, and whatnot. However, simply dumping a bunch of fruit in some vodka, waiting a few weeks, then discarding the fruit does not seem to be an efficient use of time and resources.
So far, all I've made is a homemade aquavit, which, aside from being a sort of amber yellow, was pretty spectacular. If you have any good recipes, feel free to share them.
Anywho, I have the following questions:
1. Purification of base alcohol. Cheap liquor - say, Popov - greatly decreases the cost of the end result, but can give it a funny flavor. (I've never actually tried using anything other than half-decent booze - I'm new to this, and don't feel like waiting three weeks only to find out I've made something that tastes like shoe polish because I was too cheap to buy decent ingredients.)
I've constructed a rather basic filter out of a piece of pipe capped with mesh and filled with food-grade activated charcoal. Short of fractional distillation, can anyone else suggest techniques to allow the use of cheap base alcohols?
2. Pureeing of fruit ingredients. My first two attempts at fruit liqueurs - dried cherries in vodka and fresh mango in rum, both several weeks away from being ready to drink - I made by placing the fruit and alcohol ingredients in a blender and turning them into a slurry. While this may potentially increase the difficulty of extracting liquid from solids, I feel that the increase in surface area will allow for greater flavor in less infusion time and potentially allow for a more efficient extraction of liquid.
The main problem with pureeing is the removal of pulp from the finished product. I'm hoping to run the liquid through a series of filters - first a coarse mesh, then cheesecloth, then a coffee filter - to remove insoluble substances, then use some sort of press to extract the juice. I'm a student and don't have any space for a traditional cider press, and was hoping someone could suggest an alternative.
3. Infusion conditions. I've read conflicting information on the optimum conditions for infusions; some sources claim that heat and light are good, while others claim that a cool, dark place is optimum. One thing that all sources have in common is the necessity of agitation; to supply this requirement, I've made some magnetic stirrers out of old computer parts. (Hopefully they won't catch on fire.
4. Infusion time. This is a bit of a doozy - fruit apparently varies all over the place in recommended infusion time, and spices can infuse in anywhere from a week to a month. Furthermore, leaving fruit in the liqueur for too long is supposed to make it quite bitter - I'm not sure why.
By pureeing the fruit, I'm hopefully eliminating the problem of the interior of a fruit being exposed to alcohol far less than the interior, requiring the fruit to be removed before all flavor is extracted - I'm not sure how well this will work, and won't find out for a few weeks. If anyone could help me figure out a chart of recommended minimum and maximum infusion times for different substances, that would be dandy.
5. Alcohol content. From what I understand, the primary benefit of using alcohol for flavor extraction of the solubility of the many essential oils and organic compounds that give flavor and aren't commonly found in juices. By infusing into a small quantity of high-proof alcohol and and diluting, the efficiency of flavor absorbtion, especially from things like coffee or citrus zest where all the flavor is from water-insoluble oils, should hopefully be improved over infusing into a lower-proof alcohol solution. However, this does allow for the possibility of oversaturation of the solution, slowing the diffusion of further flavor.
So...should I infuse coffee into everclear, or am I better off with standard vodka?
Thanks for the help.