Wednesday, March 9, 2011

More Hooch: Basil Schnapps vs. Basil Liqueur

You'll have to forgive him. He's from Barcelona. – Basil Fawlty (John Cleese), from Fawlty Towers

Photo: thehumanhead, Flickr ccl
As I was cruising around the www for liqueur recipes I came across a very interesting posting titled "Danish Schnapps Recipes." Intrigued, I clicked on the link and was taken to a site ( that outlined the basics on what schnapps is, and how to make "more than 60 of my favorite recipes." And I thought I was bad…

So the site says, homemade schnapps is quite a hobby in Denmark, and why not. It's easy to make, relatively inexpensive and has that all important "what will this be like?" aspect that so appeals to hobbyists of all kinds. It's exciting to wonder what your concoction will taste like. It's our inquisitiveness that propels us forward.

In essence the difference between schnapps and liqueur is the alcohol content, which is the result of the absence of sugar syrup in the case of schnapps. Schnapps is infused liquor, while liqueur is the same, but with a basic 1:1 syrup added. My understanding is that it appears you can make either with nearly any herb, fruit or spice. 

The time it takes to infuse schnapps is usually longer (much longer in some cases) than the infusion time of making liqueur.  English oak schnapps ages one year. (Apparently it has whiskey-like flavors…hmmmm.) In the case of the coffee liqueur I posted earlier (which I have independent approval for) it's ready as soon as it's cooled. 

Interestingly the two recipes I have chosen for posting are the complete opposite, the schnapps taking 1/10th the time of the liqueur. Apparently they're the exception that proves the rule!

Basil is easily started indoors.
Photo: jefield, Flickr ccl
So, how would a schnapps and liqueur, based on the same infuser, compare? This spring I will be trying this experiment at home, but rest assured the two recipes I am about to give come with positive comments from those who have made them. So they won't kill you…probably. (Just kidding.)

So lets try…basil! Basil schnapps is a popular recipe, and liquore al basilica is a traditional infusion in Italy.

I won't bore you with a discussion about basil. It's a well known culinary herb, but I will tell you this. In the Chilterns Seeds catalogue that I received two months ago they sell no fewer than 27 different varieties of basil in their vegetable section. Varieties range from common basil, through to cinnamon, Christmas, lemon, purple, licorice and Thai to name just a few. To check them out go to

Difference between overproof (left) and vodka
in making schnapps. Photo: Willrad, Flickr ccl
So even if you choose something as commonplace as basil, your choice is quite wide. Each variety will render a slightly different result. I have also discovered that in rendering herbs, using neutral overproof alcohol (80%) gives a more highly colored result more quickly.

Sadly, in Nova Scotia we only have access to 40%, so good vodka is our only option. Although our livers are probably glad.

Basil Schnapps (3 days)
1 cup packed basil leaves
1 tbsp liquid honey (optional)
2 cups vodka, potato is best

Use only fresh basil leaves. Pick them in the morning after the dew has disappeared. That's when they are most aromatic. Don't use dried leaves. 

Clean the leaves carefully, if necessary. This WILL be necessary if using store purchased, to remove any possible pesticide residue. Handle them with care as they bruise easily. Allow to dry on paper towel.

Put the leaves in a jar. Pour vodka over leaves. Add honey if desired. Cover and let steep for 24 hours in a dark place at room temperature (18-20°C, 64-68°F). Shake occasionally.  Strain and filter into a clean glass bottle or canning jar.

Serve the schnapps straight up or in cocktails after it has sat in the dark for a few days. It will improve with age, but always make sure to store it in the dark.

Liquore al Basilico (30 days)
20 basil leaves
2 cups of vodka
3 cups white sugar
2 1/2 cups water

Treat the leaves in the same manner as for the schnapps.

Place the leaves and vodka in a jar to infuse for 15-20 days. Gently agitate 2-3 times a day. The liquid will start to change colour immediately.

After the initial infusion, strain the leaves out of the alcohol. heat the sugar and water just to boiling. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Combine the infused vodka and sugar syrup in a clean jar and allow to age in a dark place for another 15-20 days.

Serve as cold as possible. The best way is to chill down in the freezer compartment of your refrigerator. Just be certain that it doesn't begin to become slushy.


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Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks?


  1. my danish friends make schnapps. like many things - patience is a virtue. they age most bottles for one - three years. ive tried thier recipies, but have trouble waiting more than a month or two. trevor

  2. I have store bought basil liquor that I purchased in Italy. I bought it because I had a mixed drink with basilicello. Now I am home and cannot find any recipes for mixed drinks using it. Can you help?