I would not sit and drink a glass of chestnut liqueur neat, as the flavour is rather cloying, but it makes an excellent base for a cocktail with a soft ginger beer or soda water. The chief problem with it is that the resultant infusion tends to cloudiness, which either has to be tolerated or removed by careful filtration.
The best chestnuts I ever saw were in Piedmont, while on a British Mycological Society visit. We were distracted from our mycological pursuits one morning by a vast chestnut coppice, the floor of which was covered in fat, ripe chestnuts. This would never happen in Britain. Our native sweet chestnuts ripen, if they ripen at all, in mid-October, though few trees produce useful fruit and those that do bestow nuts that are seldom more than a quarter the size of their continental cousins. Unless you are very lucky you will simply have to buy your chestnuts from the shop.
Unfortunately chestnuts need to be peeled. To do this, boil them for 12 minutes then turn off the heat, leaving the chestnuts in the hot water. Don one rubber glove, take the chestnuts one at a time from the pan and cut a fairly wide slit on the flat side from the pointy end. Grab hold of the skin of the flat side and carefully peel it away, trying to peel the inner skin with it. Peel away the rest of the skin. This works much better on really fresh chestnuts, so buy early in the season if you can.
- Yield: 600 ml
- 280 g peeled sweet chestnuts
- 150 g sugar
- 600 ml rum, vodka or brandy
- Place the chestnuts and sugar in a 1-litre Kilner jar and top up with your spirit of choice. Close the lid and shake. Store in a dark cupboard and very gently shake the jar once a day until the sugar has dissolved.
- After 3 months decant the liqueur into bottles, filtering if necessary. The chestnuts can be added to a fruit cake or Christmas pudding. Allow the liqueur to mature for 6 months and use for cocktails. Chestnut cocktail
- Add 2 shots of chestnut liqueur to 125 ml dry ginger beer, stir in some crushed ice and serve with a slice of fresh root ginger and a slice of lemon.