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Local Spirits

January 11, 2010

December 21, 2008

Last summer I told my brother about the hops I planted and the plans I had for brewing beer. “I know a lot of people who make homebrew, but I was thinking about trying  some blackberry brandy, like Wiggy used to make,” Mike replied while gazing at the lush border of blackberry vines bending under the weight of a heavy crop in my backyard. I don’t know if my grandmother ever knocked out a batch of the hard stuff in her bathtub, as legend has it, but the sheer volume of fruit in my yard got me thinking.

As it happened, the hops failed. I was assured by the people at the homebrew store that they might surprise me in the following year. I asked around, found a stand of ‘wild’ hops in town and made some delicious brew, but not before I had put away a huge jar of blackberries to steep in Absolut.

Vodka plus berries will never a brandy make. I am not a moonshiner and don’t want to see my kitchen or basement explode, so distillery is a talent I will probably never perfect. Revenuers, look elsewhere for your quarry. I read a few recipes about making blackerry brandy with berries, sugar, and (surprise) a bottle of good brandy. As an aperitif or potent mixologist’s tool, a flavored brandy might be wonderful, but I’ve never really liked brandy. I was stumped for a recipe that I thought would yield an acceptable poison, when I ran into an acquaintance while picking blackberries at a not-so-secret spot. I mentioned the ‘brandy’ idea and he reported that his grandmother made beach plum vodka. If vodka is good enough for the sweet beach plum, it must be good enough for blackberries and away I went.

When we tasted the beach plum vodka, we were blown away

A week or two later the beach plums ripened. I picked a scant ten pounds with the baby on my back reaching out for samples. The fruit went for a swim in the vodka, too, and I didn’t give the secret stash a thought for a couple of months. When we tasted the beach plum vodka, we were blown away. After only three months, the taste of vodka was nowhere to be found. Instead, it was replaced by a deep, rich, velvety fruit flavor, with none of the bracing sting one might expect from a vodka drink. I enjoyed my spoonful or two and stood in a state of shock, wondering why I didn’t put away more.

The blackberry spirits were another story. The good vodka was made undrinkable by the tart berries. Sweet is key when flavoring a stiff drink like vodka. Very ripe pears could work, maybe cherries, or super ripe plums; ideas flowed like wine, but the blackberries were held in low regard. That is, until I applied the sugar mentioned in the recipes. A two to one syrup of water and sugar was carefully mixed into the strained blackberry vodka. The beverage went from astringent to singing, and taste testers cautiously reported that it might be even better than the beach plum vodka, impossible though it seemed.

I tossed the squeezed blackberry pulp, as it had lost all its color to the vodka. I wonder if chickens can get drunk? The beach plums were mashed and squeezed into the strainer, but retained their deep purple color, so they were sent in for an experimental second bath in fresh vodka.

Next summer, I will be lurking among the beach plum trees in the dunes, awaiting the perfect state of ripeness and trying to beat the blue jays to the punch. In the meantime, (*Spoiler Alert*) it will be a Merry Christmas to Mike, with a gift 4 months in the making, but nearly effortless in the end.

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