With ripe fruit growing all around us, enthusiasts have already been out plucking, picking and savouring the season’s delights. You may not be into cooking with wild food but if you are into cocktails, we’d urge you to join them!
There may be a stained fingertip or two, but the drinks you can make from an afternoon spent foraging are truly exceptional.
Beside, there’s no better time to try your hand at this than summer. Bushes and hedgerows are thick with brambles over the next two months, with the berries becoming so ripe they fall off into your hand. If you are more into infusing flowers and herbs, many of the botanicals we mentioned in our last foraging article, Summer In Bloomare still growing strong.
Here’s a few berries to go hunting for and some ideas for what to make with it once you return with your bounty.
Bilberry Syrup (to replace cassis)
Also known as whinberry, consider Bilberry as a form of wild blueberry. You’ll find them all over heaths and moorlands across the UK and abundantly in the North and in Scotland. Fair warning to those looking for a harvest - they turn lips and tongues a deep purple temporarily but have far more permanence on clothes so don’t wear anything white!
You’ll find ink-blue bunches from July, but towards the end of the month and into August and early September is when they come into their best. They are nice enough to eat raw (once washed), but they are more acidic than a commercially farmed blueberries so taste much better if cooked. With this in mind, we love crushing them up with a little water, some demerara sugar and the smallest pinch of cinnamon, and gently letting it all simmer and stew for while. Once reduced and cooked through, strain the concentrated solution into a bottle.
The result is a thick syrup that is a great to use instead of Cassis in a Tequila cocktail like El Diabolo or the gin equivalent, The Floradora.
Redcurrant Whisky Cocktail
Redcurrants are a far less abundant sighting, yet for the lucky few who can find them - absolutely delicious!
It's a member of the gooseberry family and as they grow it’s easy to confuse them with that, or even white currants. Once the colour starts to become evident - given they are so similar to other fruits that are best left untouched (Lords and Ladies, Yew etc.), be extra vigilant when you are pinpointing this one. If in doubt use an app to help you identify what’s in front of you and irrespective, wait until the berries are ruby red as unripe ones are very sharp to taste.
To not break with convention, anytime redcurrants are discussed in foraging circles their Christmas jelly destiny must be acknowledged. That said, for us booze fans there is a cocktail that makes far better use of them which can be enjoyed right here and now– the Artist’s Special.
It’s not a drink that many will know, but in our opinion it’s right up there with the best Whisky cocktails out there. It was first created in Paris during the 1920’s and offsets the richness of redcurrant with lemon, while combining the familiar duo of whisky and sherry. Due to how expensive redcurrrants are (or their seasonal nature) today, bars make it using Grenadine, often leading to overly sweet drinks. It's really not the same and by having your own foraged ingredients and making your own redcurrant syrup instead - this cocktail is quite simply peerless.
50 ml Whisky
50 ml Sherry
20 ml Fresh lemon juice
20 ml Redcurrant Syrup
Pour ingredients to a shaker, add ice and shake.
Fine strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a sprig of foraged redcurrants.
Blackberry infused Whisky
You’re most likely to strike purple gold if you are hunting for blackberries. They are everywhere in the UK, even in relatively urban areas of London.
As above, you could make a syrup and use it for the likes of a Bramble, but just like with Sloes later in the year, our favourite is to infuse it in and make a home-made liqueur. Spare the gin or vodka here as whisky is by far the best choice of spirit for blackberries.
When made well, Blackberry Whisky can rival even to the finest Sloe Gins but there are two key factors to remember, patience and balance.
Blackberry Whisky needs a good amount of time spent in a slumber. Infuse it for months, not weeks if you want the flavours to smooth out into something unique, meaning that if you get started over summer it’ll be ready for Winter. The second is to be a little careful with how much sweetness you add and what type. White caster sugar is a shame to use with whisky. Just like with a good Old Fashioned, use Demerara or Muscovado. Alternatively, find a rich honey and use that instead.
How to make Blackberry Whisky:
Tip the blackberries (approx. 500g) into a sterilised jar and gently muddle them with the end of a rolling pin. No need to smash them all, just a light press.
Add the sugar (approx. 250g) and whisky (around 700ml), seal the jar and give it a good shake. Store in a cool, dark place only shaking it every so often to help the sugar dissolve.
Once you feel it’s ready (taste test along the way but expect a minimum of six weeks), filter out the berries through a piece of muslin and bottle the sweet nectar in a sterilised bottle.