Ahh, kiwi. Such potential. But, alas, this year didn't produce a good recipe. Perhaps next year. My Girlfriend and I made a number of experiments for making liqueurs with kiwis (the fruit, not the bird or the New Zealander) this past summer. I originally envisioned kiwis as a way to dampen the overzealous sweetness of strawberry liqueur, since my efforts at strawberry have always come out horribly sweet, tasting like artificial flavorings. Kiwis have about the same consistency as strawberries, and taste, to my palate at least, a lot like strawberries deprived of their sugar. My girlfriend, on the other hand, wanted to see how kiwis would work as the dominant flavor. So we decided to make two experimental batches, one of each, to run side-by-side. Since the original pair, we've run two more kiwi-strawberry, and one more kiwi-lime. And we have some results.
Surprising, to me at least, the kiwi-strawberry still tastes overpoweringly of strawberries, and is still as cloyingly sweet as cotton-candy. We're probably going to abandon kiwi-strawberry as a serious pursuit, unless someone drinks the few we have and really likes it. Perhaps next year, though, I'll try tossing in just a fraction of the amount of strawberries we've used thus far in another batch of straight kiwi, and see if a subtle strawberry shading of the kiwi flavor can be achieved.
However, the straight kiwi-lime turned out to be a more palatable concoction. It has a smooth, subtle flavor and texture reminiscent in its own way of pomegranate. Or at least, it did when we bottled it. It has aged far from gracefully, tasting now very heavy and sweet, like caramel. But there was so much promise in what went into the bottle that I have determined to try again next year, with less sugar. And perhaps a single strawberry.
Interestingly, with the second set of kiwi-lime we made, I discovered something unexpected. I squeezed the kiwi fruit during the straining phase more strongly than I had before. The resulting liqueur is very hazy, not unlike orange juice. However, the flavor is much more pronounced, and the overall effect is, to us at least, much more pleasing to the palate. I will have to experiment more with variations in squeezing. This second bottle hasn't been re-opened yet, so I can't speak to its aging qualities. The haze has all settled to the bottom, so at the least, it will need a good shaking before being consumed.
The first step for all of these liqueurs is: add everything but the sugar syrup to a glass jar and seal. That part was easy enough. "Cut-up," by the way, is somewhere between being sliced and being diced - half-inch or quarter-inch segments, smaller for the strawberries than the kiwis. We originally envisioned steeping for two weeks, but it was an awfully busy month for us, and it wound up being four weeks before we could get to them. They still looked well enough inside the jar, though everything had lost most of its color, with the fruit being a gray mass suspended in a lightly colored liquid (pink for mine, green for Donna's). I figured this to be a good sign, though, that most of what we wanted had transferred to the alcohol. Oh, and there was a thick sediment hanging at the bottom of the strawberry jars.
Next, we filtered the liquid. By now the fruit was probably very fragile, and I didn't want to make my life more difficult during filtration. Thus, I elected to passively strain out the solids through cheese-cloth, using no more force than gravity offered, and specifically not squeezing the heck out of them by hand. I remembered the lesson I'd learned with nectarines, and feared losing the batch entirely if the fruit broke down into a paste. Then, using paper towels as the secondary filter, both batches were filtered politely, and we didn't have any real problems. It did take more than one paper towel each, though, owing to the sludge at the bottom clogging the pores. In the end, we got a pretty clear result, and didn't lose more than an ounce of liquid into the paper towels.
Once we finished filtering the liquid, we had to make a guess at how much sugar syrup to add, and for the first time in my liqueur-making career, I actually sweetened a liqueur to taste. It's interesting that for all these years, I'd always followed the recipes. Well, this time I boiled up some sugar syrup, let it stand to cool as long as I could stand to wait, and then added syrup and liqueur to a shot-glass a teaspoon at a time. I settled on one cup sugar syrup for the strawberry, after deciding that one teaspoon liqueur was balanced properly by one-half teaspoon syrup. This makes sense when you remember that almost all the liquid in the mixture at this point is vodka, the fruits contributing only a miniscule amount themselves, and thus about two cups of liquid in the jar. Since Donna had a cold and couldn't test her kiwi-lime herself, I balanced hers out at one-to-one, and added a cup and a half of the syrup. In both cases, I felt I was a little extra cautious, since I know that it's a lot easier to add more sugar to the liqueur later than it is to remove some. In retrospect, I wasn't nearly cautious enough, but that's now a lesson learned.
After a little thought, we decided to age them for four weeks. The reason we're aging them at all is that it was clear to me, while mixing the syrup in, that the liqueurs really needed time to absorb the sugar properly. The hot syrup caused some of the kiwi/strawberry to gel at the bottom of the glass, and it was only after vigorous stirring that the syrup and the liqueur seemed to really mix. Thankfully, as the mixture cooled, the gelled portion re-dissolved. The reason we chose four weeks was that we had originally decided (arbitrarily) to steep and age for two weeks each. And now, since we'd steeped for twice as long as we'd planned, clearly we should be slaves to procedure and age for twice as long as well. So, four weeks it is.
After aging, we filtered through paper towels again, to remove the sediment forming at the bottom of the strawberry. It's still not perfectly clear, and I'll bet that it'll turn to jelly in a few years. But hopefully, it won't last that long. Anyway, we bottled, and tasted as we were bottling. As I've already said above, Donna's kiwi-lime is sublime. It's gentle, sweet, and without the bite of alcohol that follows some liqueurs. It seems like a wonderful apertif, or dessert cordial. The kiwi-strawberry, on the other hand, is still much too sweet, and has much too much strawberry to it. It might do well poured over ice cream, and we know just which of our friends to ask to try that out. But it doesn't seem likely to make a decent drinking liqueur. Also, it does suffer from the alcohol bite, so clearly something needs to be added to it to mellow it out.
With a second batch of kiwis, we decided to make a more careful approach to the kiwi-strawberry. We used 10 kiwis to 2 cups of strawberries, since, well, we had 20 kiwis to work with. No sense having left-over kiwis. Also, while tasting the first batch of kiwi/strawberry (when I was adding sweetening), I thought the lime was a bit bitter, so we substituted lemon peel instead. We made both batches the same, so we thought it would be enlightening to steep them for different times as well. That way, we could also get a sense of whether the extra two weeks steeping make a difference.
Well, that was the plan, anyway. We've been so busy (and, make no mistake, so lazy as well) that the second phase wound up steeping for easily two months. We felt just awful about it. But in the end, the result was no better or worse than the original strawberry-kiwi. Alas. Strawberry-kiwi seems for now like a dead-end street.
With our last batch of kiwis for the season, we decided to make more of the kiwi-lime. It had worked out quite well in the first attempt, and we wanted to try it again. We made it precisely as the first batch was made, with the small exception that, at the straining phase, I actually squeezed the fruit fairly hard, to extract more juice. The result is a much more full-bodied liqueur, with a certain tangyness, strength, and thickness that wasn't present in the first. It's definitely a different liqueur. And it's not bad. But more work is clearly needed.