How to Make Your Own Vintage Syrups and Liquors
Turn brand new flower blossoms into pure warm-weather bliss - and add some class to your next dinner party. From rose blossom iced tea to honeysuckle vodka, these easy to make vintage floral infusions will have you daydreaming about sunshine and soft green lawns in no time. DIY expert, Kristin Hackler, has some easy tips on making your own infused syrups.
Five years ago, very few people under the age of 70 could have told you what a Sazerac (at right) or a Sidecar was, let alone a Vieux Carre or a Gin Fizz. But all that is changing quickly. Thanks to the return-to-the-past trend glorified by the Victorian era steampunk genre, as well as jazz era shows such as Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey, classical elements are cropping up in many modern day movements.
And vintage drinks are no exception.
Whether you want to add a touch of spring blossoms to your lemonade or you’re itching to try your hand at cocktail recipes that have been floating around for more than a century, the best place to start is at the root…or in this case, the petal.
Take a Step Back in Time with Vintage Syrups
There was a time when if someone offered you an aperitif or digestif, they would return with a glass decanter of simple alcohol and a tray filled with small bottles of infused syrups. From violet to orange blossom to rose, honeysuckle and even pine needle, these syrups were often made at the very beginning of spring with the first blossoms of the year and cured for a month or more in simple syrup. Some, such as pine needle syrup, are made through a longer extraction process using brown sugar and sunlight.
Since most of these drinks weren’t officially named recipes – much like Gin & Tonic or Rum & Coke aren’t “named” cocktails – they don’t often pop up when one goes looking for vintage cocktail recipes. But these delicate infusions of flowers mixed with either alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages are some of the oldest drink recipes in the world.
To make your own you can use either the long or the short version, depending on how tough-textured a flower or root you plan to infuse, but both take a little time before the true essence of the flower really blossoms in the syrup:
Vintage Syrup: The Short Version for Delicate Flowers
What you'll need:
- ¼ pound flowers
- 2 pounds sugar
- 4 pints water
- Sterilized Mason jars
What to do:
Rinse the flowers thoroughly in cool water. Remove any greenery such as stems and calyx and, if you’re using rose petals, remove the white base of the petal as this can be bitter.
Stir the sugar into the water until dissolved, then add the flowers and swirl the saucepan gently to incorporate.
Bring the liquid to a boil without stirring (stirring can cause sugar crystals to form) and then remove from heat.
Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature and store with the flowers in sterilized Mason jars. Allow the syrup to cure for at least one month before using. You may choose to filter the flowers out and put the syrup in a new jar at this time, or leave the flowers in while serving for some added flair.
Vintage Syrup: The Long Version for Heartier Flowers and Roots
For hardier edibles such as the first young pine needle sprouts of the year, a longer cure time is recommended. This particular recipe came to me from a Polish friend whose family has been making this syrup every spring for generations. Since pine needles, especially young ones, contain an incredible amount of vitamin C, her family would make these long-extraction syrups over the summer so that by winter they had more than enough to ward off cold-season sickness.
What you'll need:
- 1 quart young pine needle buds, picked at the beginning of the warm season
- 1 pound brown sugar
- 2 large Mason jars with sealable lids
- Muslin or several layers of cheesecloth
- Rubber band or twine
What to do:
Pick the pine needle buds when the needles are still small, about an eighth to a quarter inch long, bright yellow-green, and still bent toward the stalk. These grow at the very ends of pine tree branches.
Rinse the buds thoroughly in cold water.
After sterilizing the glass jar in boiling water, layer the pine needle buds and brown sugar, putting down a thin layer of pine buds followed by a heavy handful of brown sugar.
Once full, cover the opening of the jar with muslin or several layers of cheesecloth and seal in place with a rubber band or twine.
Leave the jar in a sunny spot outdoors for two to three months, or until the sugar has completely dissolved into a syrup.
Once the syrup stage is reached, pour the liquid through the cheesecloth or muslin into a clean, sterilized jar and seal tightly. The syrup should keep for up to 6 months in a cool, dark cabinet.
Floral Infused Liquors
Infusing alcohol is a simple process that a lot of bars still use today. It’s a pleasant way to add a floral or fruity taste to a plain alcohol such as vodka or inexpensive whiskey or tequila, but you do need to use liquors that are 80 proof or above to keep the infusion from going rancid. It’s also a good way to enjoy a floral-infused drink without the added sugar. Some favorite combinations include honeysuckle lavender vodka, apple blossom whiskey. and jasmine gin.
What you'll need:
- One 750 ml bottle alcohol, 80 proof or above
- One Mason jar-full of petals, loosely packed
- Two Mason jars, sterilized
- Coffee filter or cheesecloth
What to do:
Clean the edible flowers thoroughly with cool water and remove any greenery.
Loosely pack the flowers in one Mason jar and fill to the top with alcohol. Seal tightly and let sit for at least 48 hours and up to one month, tasting occasionally to see if the liquor has reached your desired strength.
Once the infusion is ready, strain the liquid through a coffee filter or cheesecloth into a sterilized Mason jar and seal it tightly. This keeps the alcohol from becoming overly infused.
Store in a cool place.
More Fun with Flowers
If you have a few extra blooms after making an infusion, consider adding them to a small sugar jar to create a floral infused sugar, or sugaring the blossoms and using them for garnish in the drinks! To sugar edible flowers, coat each clean petal lightly with egg white and shake with a little sugar so that it coats both sides. Lay each petal on parchment paper and let dry overnight. You can also use the infused syrup instead of egg white, but it creates a softer finished petal.
So what are you waiting for? Once those blossoms start peeking through the snow, start your syrups and in almost no time you’ll have bottled spring ready to impress both vintage cordial aficionados and everyday drinkers alike. Happy infusing!
Kristin Hackler is a freelance writer and children’s book author who covers a wide range of DIY topics for eBay.com, where you can purchase Mason jars (here) or any other supplies you need to create your own simple syrups and infused liquors. Follow Kristin on Google+.