Soaking fruit in alcohol
I thought that soaking fruit in whiskey would be tasty so last night, I filled a mason jar with pear pieces and filled it up with Jack Daniels.
- What is the optimal amount of time this should be soaking?
- Is it better to soak it refrigerated or at room temperature?
- Are some types of liquor better than others for this? Clear (vodka) or colored (whiskey)? Should I use higher proof liquor (e.g. 90-100 proof whiskey).
Personally, I think it's best to match the liquor to the fruit, rather than just picking one alcohol for all fruits.
The optimum amount of time depends on what you want to achieve:
- If you aim for alcohol-infused fruit, you should be fine with a short time. The taste of the fruit will start to change after only a few hours (think of soaking fruit for a punch), from then the extraction of fruit flavours into the alcohol continues. For this approach, choose a liquor that complements your fruit because it will remain quite discernible.
- A good middle ground is usually reached after two (soft fruit) to eight (harder fruit) weeks. The alcohol should have absorbed a good amount of fruit flavour but the fruit keep enough to be still tasty. Just sample a bit occasionally until you reach the desired state.
- For flavoring alcohol you want to soak for a minimum of six weeks, but here often longer is better. The taste will change over time, usually getting "rounder" or even change significantly from the original taste of the chosen fruit + alcohol combination. The fruit may or may not be tasty after this time, but usually should have given up most aromatic compounds into the alcohol - alcohol is a solvent, after all. Because you aim to take the flavour from the fruit, you can go with a "neutral" kind of liquor here, but you may just as well use something with more character. I currently have a batch of quince liquor made with only the peels and cores (in Korn) in my storage area that has been there for four(!) years. It has developed beautiful undertones of almond, vanilla and honey and is ready to be strained whenever I have a bit of free time.
Another element to consider is the fruit-to-alcohol ratio:
The less alcohol is present, the less solvent is there to draw the aromatics from the fruit. This means, for flavoured fruit, barely covering them is enough while to "fully" extract the fruit you might go for a liquid level that is up to twice as high as the fruit in your container.
For longer soaking times, the alcohol content is crucial. I learned that everything over 40 %vol (= 80 proof) should be fine to keep the fruit from spoiling during extraction even at room temperature. Use higher proof if using a higher (soft) fruit content w/o sugar if you plan on soaking long term. But always use unblemished fruit. Not only to ensure the shelf life of your product, but also because even slight traces of an "off" taste can be amplified and and spoil your whole batch.
The addition of sugar is optional, keep in mind that your fruit bring sugar, too. Sugar may speed up the extraction process a bit because it helps breaking down the cells. This may or may not be desired. Also, sugar acts as a preservative, so it's recommended for lower-alcohol concoctions.
If you like the results of your pear experiment, you might consider setting up a "Rumtopf" as an ongoing project for summer:
Starting in June with strawberries, layer about 1/2 to 1 pound of fruit with 1/2 the weight of sugar in a large jar, cover with rum (preferably 110 proof) and weigh down with a plate. Rum should be always 1 inch above fruit level. Close the pot and store in a dark space if the pot is not opaque. During summer, top up with more fruit and sugar whenever they are ripe (cheries, peaches, raspberries, pears, plum...). Start serving 6 weeks after the addition of the last fruits.