It’s a chore finding a good banana liqueur. Or passion fruit liqueur. Or ginger bitters. So many drinks calling for the obscure and I’ll never know how they taste, lacking the necessary ingredients. Instead, liquor stores and supermarkets around me carry industrial neutral grain spirit and corn syrup flavored with essential oils all cooked up in a lab rather than a kitchen. Imitations of liqueurs that came before them, they’ve weathered the years, most likely due to their cheapness, and most certainly not for their piquancy. I want the real thing, dammit.
I resigned myself to never sipping a New Life Cocktail due to having no Hercules, or a Dorchester of London Cocktail without Forbidden Fruit liqueur, ingredients not made in many years. But as years marched on and more and more cocktails fell into the ‘can’t make’ pile, I started to get frustrated. I came across an amazing book called Classic Liqueurs by Cheryl Long and Heather Kibbey. The recipes aren’t complex, but they unlocked a world I hadn’t thought of before; I can make my own liqueurs.
Rather than forget about drinks calling for lost spirits, homemade versions can revive old, obscure cocktails. After all, they aren’t going to taste any worse than what’s currently available. Homemade liqueurs can take a few tries to dial in, but the enjoyment of finally nailing it - cocktail and all – justifies the trials and tribulations.
For me, I really wanted a banana liqueur that didn’t taste fake and would catapult me to a faraway beach. I followed a recipe I found in Classic Liqueurs and it was incredibly easy.
I started with mottled brown bananas. All mush. Banana bread bananas. I chopped one banana into bite-sized chunks and added it to a fifth of Charlie Noble Coppperstack white rum.
A side note—I chose Charlie Noble because it was affordable but still tasted decent enough – no alcohol burn at the end and no funk. I chose a clean white rum because I want the banana to be the strongest flavor. If I’m missing spices or other nuances, I can add them to the cocktail, but I can’t remove flavors already present in the rum. In general, I would recommend El Dorado white or their 3 year. Or a go with Wray and Nephew Overproof to yield some high-octane funk.
I let the banana and rum meld in a mason jar for two weeks. Turns out, there’s a lot of pectin in a banana, so strain it out. The recipe I was following calls for a simple syrup of 1¼ cups sugar and ½ water heated. Strange ratio, but I’m happy with the levels of sweetness, so I left it as is. Lastly, I grabbed half a vanilla bean, split it, and threw it in. Waited another two weeks, took out the vanilla bean and viola!
What I ended up with is a liqueur with a lot of white banana flavor and just a touch of baking spices, with vanilla being dominant. For other uses, like in a spirituous cocktail, it might not fare so well. But my aim hit the mark – bright and fruity for tiki style drinks – but feel free to tweak to suit your own needs.
The Yellow King
1.5oz White Rum
.75oz Banana Liqueur
Shake and strain into an up glass.