For the last month we’ve been steeping a spicy blend of wild herbs, plants and aromatic barks in alcohol to make our own totally foraged forest liqueurs and bitters. The Germans have been doing this for years. Just look at Jägermeister. Popular as it is with hard-drinking extreme sports fans, the Bavarian liqueur is actually a forager’s delight, made with a secret blend of 50 herbs and spices, many of which can be found growing wild in our own fields and forests.
Here are a few of the wild ingredients we infused, along with descriptions of the tastes they contribute to the final blend:
Wood Aven Root
A clove-like spiciness, with hints of nutmeg.
Used to be used to bitter ale, before the invention of hops. Powerful herbal bitterness.
Sharp bitterness, with traces of cherry and almond
A German classic. Hay-like sweetness and vanilla aromas.
Also known as ale-hoof – another traditional ale flavouring.
A reminder of colder times, and fun with birch beer. A real icy, almost sour, bitterness here.
This picture was taken the day I created the mixture. Soon, after daily shaking and stirring, the liquid began to take on a healthy black colour. After a month, I strained the solids out of the alcohol. For a last bit of extra flavour, I boiled up the pulp of bark and bitter herbs with some water and squeezed this liquid back into the alcohol. What we were left with was potent stuff, and powerfully bitter and spicy. We needed sweetness.
These cherries aren’t as rich and juicy as their cultivated cousins, and they’re sourer too. But right now they’re everywhere, and if you make them into, say, a syrup, it’s very easy to tune up the sweet/sour balance and make a very pleasant cherry-red concoction. Like so:
So now we had a sticky-sweet wild cherry syrup and a spirit with a hearty bitter and spicy kick. We did the obvious thing and mixed them together. The finished whole is much greater than its parts, and has that unmistakable bittersweet spiciness of angostura bitters, campari or Jäger. Every single ingredient in this liqueur, apart from sugar and water and a pinch of citric acid was foraged from the wild, less than a mile away. Whoever would have thought that such weird and exotic flavours were freely available so close to home?
So here it is – this summer’s must-have drink: Gently lower a shot glass full of our Wild Cherry and Forest Bitters liqueur into a crisp lager or refreshing cider, and sip slowly in a pub garden.