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Sometimes when I read about big city bars, I get a little jealous. Part of what inspired me to learn to mix a good drink is that most of the bars within walking distance of my house have deer heads mounted on the wall and bartenders who get a little confused if your cocktail isn't a Rum & Coke, Gin & Tonic, or other drink whose name is its ingredients. But then I make a batch of DIY blackberry liqueur with fresh berries, I mix myself a Bramble, and all envy dissipates. Five minutes of berry foraging yields a sophisticated liqueur that's become a staple in my home bar. Creme de mure has layers of flavor—sweet, tart, bold, rich, and bright, and they're all delicious in a cocktail.
I had no idea that blackberry liqueur, also known as creme de mure, was actually somewhat rare. Blackberry liqueur was the first liqueur I ever made, because I was practically drowning in fresh berries so if I screwed up it wouldn't be a big deal. Of course, if you're not close to berry-picking opportunities, you can still capture summer in a bottle by making your own creme de mure with store-bought fresh or frozen berries.
What's Available to Buy
Creme de mure seems to be fairly common in Europe, but here in the states, it's a little harder to find. I've seen a few brands in specialty shops, but the average liquor store or BevMo doesn't seem to stock it. It's worth seeking out the excellent options from Clear Creek Distillery and Leopold Bros., if you don't mind paying $20 for a 375-milliliter bottle. I haven't hunted for the DeKuyper version; it's more affordable but also not frequently spotted in liquor stores.
Homemade blackberry liqueur has a hint of wine-like complexity with bursts of fresh berry sweetness. Whether you use fresh or frozen berries, you'll get a full flavored end product. With just a few days and a handful of inexpensive, easy-to-find ingredients, you can craft a deep and rich liqueur that's as good or better than what you'd buy (if you were able to find blackberry liqueur in stores).
My recipe calls for a bit of lime zest because it adds a bit of acidity that intensifies and complements the blackberry flavor. You could use lemon instead, but its flavor will be more pronounced.
If you want to experiment, try turning this recipe into a mixed berry liqueur that also includes blueberries and raspberries, or add a bit of rosemary or mint to boost the flavor complexity. If your berries are super ripe and plucked straight from the plant, they're likely to be quite sweet—you may want to cut back on the amount of sugar you start with and then add more to taste if needed.
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A cooling Bramble is an ideal summer cocktail that features your homemade blackberry liqueur along with gin. Not a gin fan? You can also substitute vodka in this drink. Or try your homemade liqueur in the place of creme de cassis in a Diablo, a refreshing combination of tequila, lime, and ginger ale. If you're looking for something a little bit richer, try blackberry liqueur in this dark rum and reposado tequila concoction.
For a quick and fabulous sangria, chop up a bunch of fruit and mix it with a few ounces each of DIY blackberry liqueur and brandy, then refrigerate overnight. Top off with wine when you're ready to serve.
I haven't named this creation yet, but I also like to mix equal parts rye and amaro with a splash of blackberry liqueur and then top off with a little soda water. Speaking of bubbles, the liqueur is great in sparkling wine or in a Champagne cocktail like this Kir Royale du Bois. For party time, this Canadian Clubhouse Punch from "The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook" would be a fun way to show off your homemade liqueur, too.
About the Author: Marcia Simmons is the co-author of DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks. She also shares cocktail recipes and tips on the DIY Cocktails blog and on Twitter @DIYCocktails.