For our first event of 2017, we thought we'd do something completely different and look at the underrated world of liqueurs. Liqueurs have long had a bit of a reputation for being sickly sweet and something your nanna would sip. Whilst by definition (in the European Union anyway), liqueurs have to have a minimum level of sugar added to them, we wanted to find out how different liqueurs stacked up and how easy it would be to DIY.
Taking place at film noir bar The Long Goodbye in Darlinghurst, we gathered for a welcome drink that was a refreshing mix of blood orange and ginger shrub topped with soda before taking our seats for a masterclass on the world of liqueurs. Led by bar owner Flynn, who at the Long Goodbye specialises in making his own liqueurs, we were also joined by the "mad scientist professor" Mica, a chemist by profession who was on hand to explain some of the science behind the process.
Across the following hour we tried side by side three different home made liqueurs against their commercial counterparts
1. Representing the fruit category, we tried a passionfruit liqueur made three different ways against the commercially available De Kuyper passionfruit liqueur. The contrast between the housemade and the commercial versions were astounding, not least in the syrup levels of the latter compared to the former. It also bears noting that the De Kuyper itself is not a pure passionfruit but also has oranges and grapefruit in it, which may go some way to explain the more lurid colouring. As for the housemade passionfruit liqueur, we tasted a "traditional" infusion of passionfruit in neutral alcohol that had been left to infuse for some days, as well as one made in an ultrasonicator (more on that later) and one using a ISIS cream charger which produced a liqueur in 30 minutes. The room was divided as to whether the zestiness of passionfruit came through more in the ultrasonicator or the cream charger version but there was unanimous agreement at least that the passionfruit came through a lot more in the homemade versions.
2. Representing the nut category, we tried a chestnut liqueur that Flynn had produced using the ultrasonicator against the commercially available Massenez version. Yet again, the room preferred the housemade version, for the more natural chestnut flavours that came across although the Massenez had a profile that was more akin to chestnut cream, which may work better depending on the application.
3. The third category was perhaps the most controversial as we tasted a spiced rum to represent the herbs and spices category. Whilst traditionally spiced rum would not be associated with the liqueur category, we thought we'd push the boundaries a little as most spiced rums have sugar added (although some like Cargo Cult rum do not), and the housemade version utilised an infusion method not unlike those used for liqueurs. We pitted the homemade version against the iconic Bundaberg, which produces a spiced rum that was more fizzy and sherbety on the nose than Flynn's version. Without it being a slight on the quality of either, the room preferred the housemade version, with the consensus being that the spices used (such as cinnamon and anise) came through better. That for us, probably highlighted the beauty of the DIY method, in that you could adjust and manipulate the version you want based on what spice you wanted to be more prominent.
Perhaps the most exciting demonstration from the afternoon, was the usage of an ultrasonicator, a machine that is also used as optical cleaners at optometrists! The principle of it is not unlike a sous vide machine, in that the alcohol and spices/fruit/herb/nuts are placed in a bag and then placed in the machine. But instead of it being slow cooked, the machine basically uses intense vibrations over a concentrated period of time (which could be something like 30 minutes) to produce the final version. It certainly gave new meaning to the phrase "shake the 'ell out of your liquid"!
Capping off, we all enjoyed a cocktail made with spiced rum that was topped with a flaming passionfruit - a great way to wind down the session! Many thanks to Flynn and Mica as well as the Long Goodbye bar staff for accommodating us!