There's not a lot of examples of delicious things to make with rowanberries (Sorbus americana) on this site. I've tried to use the berries in all kinds of different ways, and most of those things were failures.
The reason is the berries are very tannic and bitter, with a strong flavor most people will find offensive. Schnapps (along with classic rowanberry jelly) is actually good though. The finished product has a flavor you won't get anywhere else.
The inspiration for giving it a whirl came from Eastern Europe. When I occasionally post about harvesting the fruit to make jelly, or this year when I collected a large amount of them to give to the distillery I've been working with, there is usually someone of Eastern European descent who comments "we put them een vodka" (for the record, the same comments come when I mention highbush cranberries).
Putting fruit in vodka has a tendency to come off to me as a kind of cop-out, similar to when people tell me that they make tea out of some plant. You can make tea out of anything, and you can put anything in vodka. But, I'm sitting here drinking my words as I write, because it works, and they're right.
What I did, was make a simple mixture of vodka and sugar with a good amount of rowanberries. I put the mixture into a couple glass jars and let it sit and mellow for a couple months. When I took the lid off and snuck a taste, I was really surprised.
The maceration seems to draw out the flavor of the rowanberries, without the bitter, tannic quality. The color is a beautifully pale orange that reminded me a bit of rosewater.
The fruity taste of the berries, typically obscured by bitterness, comes through in the finished product, and there's noticeable aromas of grapefruit and orange peel. It's great mixed with soda or champagne, or enjoyed as a digestif.
Sugar is optional
I use sugar in this, and plenty of it. When I make sweet infused liquors, I serve them in small amounts after dinner, or mixed with something else. If you want to skip the sugar or reduce it you'll still have a good rowan flavor in the finished product.
If you want to opt for a different sweetener I'd start with honey, adding it a few spoonfuls at a time until you can taste it.
- 1 lb vodka
- 8 oz sugar
- 10.5 oz / 300 g rowanberries
- Wash the berries, then mix with all ingredients, put into a mason jar, and allow to rest in a jar in a cool dark place for two months.
- Strain the berries and discard, strain the liquid through cheesecloth and store in a cool dark place.