Foraged Cocktails: Lilac Liqueur + Lilac Cocktail Recipes
There’s nothing quite like the scent of new lilac blossoms wafting through my kitchen windows on an early Spring morning. Lilac is one of my very favorite flowers, and possibly my very favorite scent, so this year I decided I had to do something to preserve that beautiful, clean, but fleeting aroma.
Springtime is such a brief but wonderful time of year, and in New England I often feel like it comes and goes before I get a chance to really enjoy its beauty. The warm but not hot weather, the earthy scent of the thawing ground, new life springing up from every tiny crack, the world awash in that pale, vibrant green.
It’s been a few years since I made a liqueur, so I decided this would be the perfect way to preserve the beautiful scent of my lilacs and re-familiarize myself with the process (more liqueurs to come!). Lilacs only last a couple of weeks, so act quickly as soon as you see that all of the buds on your bushes have opened. This year, my lilac bushes developed buds early but took several weeks to begin to open, and another week for all of the buds to fully open. But the wait was totally worth it, and I’m looking forward to adding this unique floral flavor to my cocktail recipes well into the summer.
I wanted a fairly strong lilac flavor, and I’m way too impatient to wait for weeks of infusing, so I decided to do three rounds of quick, overnight infusions rather than one or two longer infusions. To begin, add about 3-4 heaping cups of lilac blossoms, stems removed, but clusters mostly intact, to a large glass measuring cup. Pour about 1.5 cups of vodka over them and use a spoon to fully cover the flowers, squishing them down to keep them submerged. Cover the measuring cup and place it in the fridge to steep overnight. Tip: use a mason jar and it will be even easier! The next day, carefully strain the mixture, discard the spent blossoms, and add another 3 cups of lilac flowers to the vodka.
By now, the vodka will have taken on a tea-like color. Place the second infusion in the fridge and allow it to steep until the following morning. On day three, you’re almost done! One final time, strain the vodka and fill the glass with flowers, allowing it to steep overnight. On day four, after your final strain, you will have about 1 cup of tea colored vodka (about a half cup is lost in the discarded blossoms). Now you’ll add ½ cup of simple syrup to the vodka, stir well, and pour into a glass bottle or jar for storing. The result is a delicious, fresh and floral liqueur that works beautifully in a variety of cocktail recipes, adding a taste of spring to happy hour (or your morning pancakes!)
Lilac Liqueur Recipe
(Yields about 1.5 cups / 12 oz total liqueur)
- 1.5 cups vodka
- 3 cups heaping of lilac blossoms x 3 infusions (9 cups total)
- Large glass measuring cup or large mason jar
- Fine mesh strainer
- Plastic wrap (if using measuring cup)
- Bottle or jar for storing liqueur
Gather 3 heaping cups of lilac blossoms, giving them a good shake to remove any bugs or debris. Remove the stems/woody parts, but you can leave the clusters intact. The lilac nectar is found at the base of each flower, so if you pluck them off individually, a lot of that beautiful scent will be lost.
Place lilac blossoms in a large glass measuring cup or mason jar and cover with 1.5 cups vodka. Use a spoon to press the flowers down, ensuring they’re fully submerged in the liquor. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, use a fine mesh strainer to strain the vodka/lilac mixture. It will have a brown, tea-like color. Use a spoon to press as much liquid out of the blossoms while straining as possible. Discard flowers and add another 3-4 cups of fresh lilac blossoms to the vodka. Cover and return to the refrigerator.
You’re almost done! Once again, strain the lilac/vodka mix and add 3-4 cups of fresh lilac blossoms, cover and refrigerate. This is the third and last infusion.
Now you’re ready to sweeten your liqueur! *Whip up a batch of simple syrup by heating equal parts water and white sugar, stirring until all of the sugar has dissolved, and let cool. You’ll need ½ cup for the lilac liqueur, but if you have a spare jar or bottle for storing it, I recommend using 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar so that you have plenty of leftover syrup for making cocktails!
Add ½ cup of simple syrup (or less, to taste. If you tend to like things less sweet, try adding ¼ cup at first) to the strained lilac-infused vodka, stir well, and pour into a clean bottle or jar for storage. I keep my liqueurs in the fridge to ensure a long shelf life, but because of the alcohol content, it is probably ok to leave out. I have read that allowing liqueurs to sit for a few weeks will mellow the flavor and make for a more refined final product, but I’ve never aged any myself. I’ll add an update in a few weeks if I still have some left! :)
I’ve been enjoying my lilac liqueur in a variety of recipes, but so far two of my favorites have been a Lilac Sidecar and Lilac Lemonade. I’ve used a few frozen blueberries in these recipes to add a pretty purple-y color, but they’re entirely optional. Another way to add color is adding butterfly pea flowers to the liqueur (they don’t impart much flavor, but add a lot of blue/purple color).
My lilac bushes have now turned the corner and are slowly dropping all of their pretty flowers, but thanks to this liqueur, I’ll be enjoying their flavor well into the summer. If you end up making this recipe, let me know what you think! Here are a couple of cocktail recipes to enjoy it with. Cheers!
Lilac Lemonade Recipe
- 1.5 oz gin (I love a floral gin for this, like Hana Gin)
- .5 oz lilac liqueur
- 5 frozen blueberries (optional, for color)
This recipe is amazing with a homemade, not-too-sweet lemonade, but a store bought lemonade is fine, just do a nice long shake to add a little more dilution to the final cocktail.
Add gin, liqueur and blueberries to a shaker with ice and shake well until chilled. Strain into a tall glass filled with ice and top with lemonade. Garnish with fresh lilac blossoms and a cute paper straw.
Lilac Sidecar Recipe
- 1.5 oz cognac
- .75 oz lemon juice
- .75 oz lilac liqueur
- 3 frozen blueberries (optional, for color)
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake well until chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with fresh lilac blossoms.