Take a walk around the fields, woods, beaches, riverbanks or even urban heaths and if you know what you are looking for - you’ll see a bounty of ingredients to enjoy. Foraging, while undeniably quaint, can be so much fun and when combined with the world of spirits, makes for some fantastic flavour combinations.
For those seeking home-made gifts and unique ideas for drink related presents, it presents an exceptional opportunity to make something beautiful. For the price of the ingredients – it’s also really cheap for the extraordinary value and heart felt nature of what’s being given. It doesn’t have to be complicated either. Pick, wash, steep, strain and add sweetener.
Here’s a forager’s guide to infusions.
At this time of year, Sloe Gin is on most booze infused minds. A small, round stone fruit that grows all over hedgerows, sloes are an autumn fruit that have been steeped with gin for centuries. It’s the original Fruit Gin.
There are many tips and tricks for how to achieve your ruby red, rich and fruity nirvana, mostly based on subjective experiences and old folklore. As a general rule though - we recommend piercing the skin before you add it to a bottle of gin as this really helps the amount of flavour being extracted.
Only add a small amount of sugar at the start of your 2-3month infusion then sweeten to taste once you’ve strained the fruits out, guaranteing you get the right dose. If you want a more marzipan-like note to come through stronger, crush a few berries as it’s the stone inside the fruit that gives that note.
Sloes are not the only Autumn hedgerow fruit worth considering. For Fruit Infused Vodka try Damsons, which are similar to Sloe but with a more plum like note. Meanwhile Sea Buckthorn catches the eye with its bright orange colour. Buckthorn berries have a unique sour citrus hit (somewhere between orange and pineapple) that’s making them a raising fixture on menus in Michelin-starred restaurants.
Last but not least, brightly coloured Rosehips can be found in hedgerows and once slightly blanched before infusing, release floral citrus that’s second to none.
Whichever you pick, wash thoroughly before infusing. Steep these in Vodka to get the full unadulterated essence of the fruit. Sea buckthorn and Rosehips only need a couple of weeks at most, while Damsons suit a longer slumber.
Once transformed into glorious liqueur by adding sweetener, all three make for a fantastic addition to some fizz, transforming the usual boring Prosecco or Cava based toasts into a festival of local flavour. As for the base? Try using a clean vodka that allows the infusion to take centre stage - Ketel One, Reyka or Finlandia.
Forget the small and delightful shrubbery treats and you can head for the trees for other bountiful delights. The UK is rife with quince, apples and pears growing wild.
Quinces are large, yellow and aromatic fruits which are hard to find in most shops and supermarkets, yet relatively common in orchards and meadows. Great for jellies and jams, they are brilliant with brandy (or gin), especially when turned into a liqueur and served alongside a platter of cheese.
Meanwhile, the most popular varieties of pear that grow in the UK are the Conference and the Concorde. Once washed, chopped and steeped in young Brandy or Grappa they make for truly spectacular results. You can even add some cinnamon, cloves or anise into the mix for a more seasonal drink (if so, go very light on the dose).
Of course, apples are bountiful at this time of the year. By adding them to brandy, the crisp nature of the fruit combines with the grape base and once left to infuse seem to combine to a result that’s far greater than the sum of its parts.
For those lucky enough to find them mulberries are the ultimate find for those looking to make their own fruit infused booze. Rarely found in shops, you’ll find mulberries by picking them fresh from the tree. It may take several years for a mulberry tree to start bearing fruit so it’s one to be careful about over-harvesting. If you do, add it to some Whisky and use demerara sugar for an astonishingly complex mix.
For the grand finale of this round up of things to add to your favourite spirits, one for the true flavour explorers out there; nuts and Mezcal. Hazelnuts can be found commonly, so too can sweet chestnuts. If you’re picking hazelnuts early in the season when they’re still green they’ll be okay to eat, but better to wait a little longer for this use.
Collect enough and once peeled, cook them in the oven to roast them (remember to score a cross in them to stop them from exploding). Once thoroughly cooked, add them into a Mescal overnight, before straining and filtering out. The smoke combined with the nutty, roasted and earthy woodland notes is simply spectacular to sip on. Try the delicious QuiQuiRiQui, or Del Maguey as the base.
Please note – as with all foraging, it must be done responsibly. Do not just set out with a basket in hand and pluck what you like the look of, spend a little time getting to know the guidelines and golden rules set out by the likes of the Woodland Trust and other brilliant national organisations for how to do it safely and sustainably.
Please remember to always be mindful of the habitat you are impacting and to nurture it for the broader ecosystem and for future generations.