Witches’ Brew

A while back I had this ambition to tinker with herbs and create a liqueur which would be called something like “Sled’s Yard” or “Creme de Jardin Mechant.” I have lemon balm, anise hyssop and various mints out there and am willing to make a mess in the kitchen, so it seemed like a starter.

I got me a bottle of Christian Brothers brandy — as cheap as you can get without descending into the caustic, and more grapey than woody (I usually like my brandy woody), which seemed apter for a liqueur. A brief sieve of the Internet reaped some recipes which boiled down to steeping your herbs in your distilled spirits for a matter of weeks, adding sugar (I opted for honey) before or after straining and continuing to mellow for some weeks more.

I got up early one dewy morning and clipped and stripped stalk after stalk of herbs — the anise hyssop is thigh high, so it didn’t take too many. I used the flowers too; they smell like Pernod already.

Sulfur butterfly likes the anise hyssop too.

Leaves and flower fragments were all over the kitchen floor. The cats went crazy. It took two pint jars to cram all the herbs in. I covered the botanical chaos with brandy, sealed them, fridged them (cold extraction of oils is best, you hear) and forgot them for a month, then got out a strainer, a mixing bowl, a wooden spoon and a pair of barbecue tongs, and performed a process that looked like a cross between a mad scientist scene from a silent movie and a kitchen table abortion. Gloppy, pungent bits of moist herb were everywhere. The cats didn’t like that as much. Cats hate volatile aromas.

I blended in honey, more or less by guess, and on a last inspiration dumped in a tablespoon of black peppercorns. It sat in the fridge some more.

Last night we got it out with some pistachio Mondicana chocolate. I stuck my nose in the liqueur balloon, tasted, and felt waves of reminiscence wash over me. Though I had never had a liquor made with any of the ingredients before, it was hauntingly familiar — heimlich, as Freud would have said pointedly.

I said so as I handed the engineer his glass. He agreed.

I closed my eyes and hit the memory jackpot.

“We have Creme de Root Beer,” I said.

We’ll see where this experiment goes. The Benedictine friars can rest easy, for now.


19 thoughts on “Witches’ Brew

  1. We have (had?) a recipe from several years ago. I made a couple of mason jars of the stuff, starting with the same cheap brandy, but using dried herbs and letting the stuff sit for a couple of months before straining several times and letting sit again for a day.

    I called it brown lightning.

  2. My aunt Hermina used to make cherry wine and pear tomato wine also corn wine. I was a kid but I remember their sweet taste…and the wallop they had. Of course the bottles were out of bounds bur we managed to have a sip now and then.

  3. I didn’t quite get it. You mean you recreated by chance, despite all the mess and the cats’ discontent, a liquor you had drunk many years ago? Creme de Root Beer? If you did, you’ll never be able to repeat the experiment, unless you wrote down all the steps.

    • Not a liqueur… just the nonalcoholic, traditional American kids’ drink of root beer (or sarsaparilla). I looked up the ingredients


      and they include licorice and mint, so at least two of the flavors of my brew were involved.

      When I was small you could get hard candies from general stores in the shape of a root-beer barrel, flavored accordingly. I liked them.

        • Root beer is very well known all over North America. A&W had the best although Barck is not far behind, the other ones are but pale imitations.
          Spruce beer is also quite delicious. My French-Canadian grandfather used to make a mean brew. One night, while aging, the thing fermented and all the bottles exploded. Since he stored them in his bedroom under his bed, and grandma’s of course, it made a fine mess. The whole house smelled of spruce beer for weeks.

          • Sometimes you can get birch beer, which is also pretty nice. Lighter and more playful flavor than root beer.

            I wish I knew all your family’s traditional recipes now. Pear tomato?

      • Questions about Heimlich:

        1. Is the id external?
        2. If not, repression apart, how are surprising uncanny events accounted for?
        3. Given repression, how difficult is it to relate surprising uncanny events to the individual? Are there any such instances on record?
        4. Coincidence apart, how does one account for closely related events having no deterministic explanation?
        5. Given coincidence, is the level of odds against such related events being so explained capped? If so, how are such events beyond the cap to be explained? If not capped, how does one test for infinite odds? Are there any instances of such a test?

        This is such a difficult manoevre. Please help.

        • Not even a five miler sends enough blood to my brain to deal with these questions.

          I have noticed the brain seems to have a built in eeriness threshold. Am I the only person who finds the voices of other people in a moving car, when one is nodding off to sleep from the boredom of travel, echoic and weird?

          • That means my questions mean nothing.

            You’re right about that threshold. So familiar, but never really noted by me before you mentioned it.
            You describe it beautifully.

  4. If you ever accidently create Creme de Coca Cola you could get the Coca Cola company to pay you millions not to divulge the secret ingredients. Though you may also end up in one of those mysterious “the car went out of control” fatal accidents…

    LOVE that butterfly pic.

    • Yum. I love all tomatoes and have in my veggie garden several kinds but not those. I think I tasted some at a farm market I leafleted during my political misadventures.

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