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I'm the type of person who usually ends up paying for a $2 purchase with a card, but I always make sure I have cash in my pocket this time of year so I can indulge myself at a roadside strawberry stand. If I get just a pint, I'm just going to eat all the berries before I get home. Therefore, it's only logical that I buy a flat each time. If you're eating or drinking something at my house between April and October, it's going to have strawberry in it.
Strawberries go well with just about every spirit, fruit, and herb, so they're as at home at the bar as a lemon or a lime. But of all the strawberry cocktail projects I've tried, homemade cocktail liqueur is the most fun. You can splash a little strawberry liqueur in sparkling wine or club soda for a quick refresher, use it to sweeten up a seasonal sangria, or sub it in for other liqueurs like triple sec in classics like a Margarita. And you don't need a lot of patience, since it doesn't take long for strawberries to release their flavor and color—after only a day or two you'll have a bright red infusion that smells like a Strawberry Shortcake doll who likes to party.
What's Available to Buy
Fragoli is an Italian liqueur, with real strawberries inside the bottle, that sells for about $35. Though it's not common enough to be at every corner liquor store, places like BevMo tend to carry it. The high-end American offering is Sorbetta, a small-batch liqueur made with American potato vodka for $20 a half-bottle. This one seems a little difficult to track down outside of special orders. Bols, Hiram Walker, Marie Brizzard, and DeKuyper—the companies that make every flavor of liqueur under the sun—all make strawberry liqueurs closer to the $10 a bottle range that are widely distributed.
The specialty strawberry liqueurs will cost you as much as a decent bottle of booze. (With rare exceptions, liquor is always a better way to spend your bar budget than liqueur.) And as far as Strawberry Pucker and the rest of the cheap stuff goes, you can make a better strawberry liqueur at home with fresh berries and still save a few bucks.
Your homemade strawberry liqueur will have the same bright color, scent, and intense flavor without anything artificial, and you can play around with accent ingredients. I went with the gentle anise flavor of tarragon, because it adds a little depth to the bright flavor of strawberries. But almost anything goes: Basil and strawberries are amazing together, and a little vanilla is a nice touch, too. Throwing in some blackberries, cherries, or orange zest could make for a fantastic twist. If it tastes good with strawberries, it will taste good in your liqueur.
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For no-effort summer drinks, just splash some DIY strawberry liqueur in club soda or sparkling wine. You can also add a little quick strawberry flavor to a Mojito or Tom Collins, or dress up a Gin & Tonic or Vodka & Soda by adding some strawberry liqueur. (If you want to get DIY extra credit, you can top it off with a few dashes of homemade rhubarb bitters.)
The Bramble is a wonderful gin cocktail normally made with blackberry liqueur, but I think it might be even better with strawberry.
A lot of cocktails usually made with triple sec can benefit from a little strawberry substitution, including the already-pink Cosmopolitan. The Seelbach is usually made with Champagne, bourbon, bitters, and Cointreau—but swap in your liqueur for a fresh, summery take on the drink. And while you could use it in most sangrias and punches, a Fresh Watermelon Sangria and James Beard's Champagne Punch are tailor-made for a little touch of strawberry.
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.