I love the idea of homemade holiday gifts, but I usually don’t get around to them in time. Seriously, who has the fucking time to make gifts for people? Like, multiple people. I don’t bake, so I can’t even do cookies. Most years, I just end up playing Supermarket Sweeps in TJ Maxx two days before Christmas and getting my family a bunch of shit they don’t need and probably don’t even want. I mean, does my dad really need another flashlight headband? And by now, my older sister probably has a closet full of fucking holiday-scented bath salts thanks to me and my old friend TJ.
Somehow, though, a few years ago I managed to get my shit together after Thanksgiving, and busted out one of my favorite experiments: homemade coffee liqueur. (Looking back, I was probably on those crazy diet pills, which are pretty much prescription meth, so that explains a lot. I was so productive and so thin, but also a raging bitch).
Anywaaaaaay, this stuff is like Kahlúa, but better. I compared it, over ice, to the store-bought stuff, and I had a hard time stomaching how syrupy and artificial the Kahlúa tasted after drinking my homemade version.
Most “homemade Kahlúa” recipes I’ve found online call for instant coffee, but I don’t touch that shit, so I wasn’t about to include it in my labor of coffee-flavored boozy love. I figured a way around it: I made a stock pot of super-strong coffee (more of a coffee sludge) with freshly-ground beans, and manually filtered it. I mixed the filtered coffee with vanilla extract and sugar, then mixed that with an equal amount of vodka, and let it sit for 30 days. Yes. Thirty. Fucking. Days.
This recipe takes a little work, and a lot of patience, but the result is an amazing, easy-to-sip coffee liqueur that will last indefinitely — I mean, if you don’t drink it all right away.
Homemade Coffee Liqueur
Active time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total time: 1 month, 1 hour and 30 minutes
Yield: 128 ounces (16 cups)
12 ounces of a quality dark roast, whole bean coffee
9 cups water
3 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons vanilla extract (I prefer Madagascar bourbon vanilla)
64 ounces (8 cups) vodka
Grind the coffee (if you have the option to choose the grind, choose the coarsest possible). Add the coffee grounds and water to a large pot, and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. As soon as the coffee begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and let the mixture (the “coffee sludge”) simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, fashion some sort of filter system over a french press or other tall container. I used a ceramic drip cone used for pour overs that I picked up at a thrift store for $2 (you can buy them online and at many box stores and coffee shops). These cones are meant to sit on top of a coffee mug and require paper a paper filter. Since we don’t use paper filters, and I didn’t want to go back to the store at 10 pm, I cut an unbleached flour sack towel, and used the pieces as my filter.
Ladle the coffee sludge into the filter. Depending on what you use, it may take a while to filter through, and you’ll need to clear or replace your filter a few times before you get through the entire batch.
You should have muddy grounds stuck in your filter. If not, it’s probably getting into your mixture, and you don’t want that.
Add the filtered coffee back to the (rinsed!) pot over low heat. Add the sugar and stir until all of the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla and stir well. At this point, you should have about 8 cups of coffee syrup. Let the syrup cool for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Now, you can do one of two things: 1. Add 8 cups of vodka and the syrup to a large jar or bottle. 2. If you’re adding this to individual bottles for gifts, go ahead and fill each bottle halfway with the coffee syrup, then fill the rest of the way with vodka. Either way, use a funnel.
Let your boozy concoction sit in a cool, dark place for 30 days. In the meantime, make tags or labels for your gifts. Give it a shake every few days, when you remember.
I know what you’re thinking: “Hey! There aren’t 30 days left until Christmas. Why didn’t you post this earlier?” No problem! Just write “Enjoy After ____” on your label or tag. Believe me, people will be happy to drink this on a cold January night or save it until Valentine’s Day.
A word of warning: This shit goes down easily, and it’s hard to put down. I drank it the night my husband proposed to me, and let’s just say I’m really glad there’s a video of the whole thing. Because if you didn’t catch my drift, I was fucking wasted.
You guys, sometimes my mom would let me drink booze before I was 21. Maybe she was festive as fuck. Or maybe she was just a shitty mom. For good measure, let’s say it’s a little of Column A and a little of Column B.
Anyway, this Nuts & Berries cocktail is one she’d let me drink around the holidays. Though I don’t know how it even happened, because she never kept any booze in the house, save for the jug of shitty pink wine that was always half full in the fridge. In fact, now that I think about it, it was my cool aunt Susie who first introduced me to it. (See how my mom gets called “shitty” and Susie is “cool?”)
Anyway, there aren’t too many drinks I liked at 18 that I still like at 34. But this is one of them. Yes, it’s sweet. But even if you, like me, usually prefer straight whiskey to sugary, creamy drinks, just fucking give this one a try. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and creamy, but not too creamy.
Nuts & Berries
2 ounces Bailey’s Irish Cream
2 ounces Frangelico hazelnut liqueur
1 ounce Chambord raspberry liqueur
Add the ingredients to a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake well, and strain into a chilled glass, on or off the rocks, depending on your preference.
I’ve created probably a hundred catchy cocktails for various websites, but this one, a Thanksgiving-themed tipple, is one of my all-time favorites. I’m going to go out on a limb, and say it’s the best Thanksgiving cocktail in the world. In fact, it may be the only Thanksgiving cocktail in the world, but that’s probably not true at all.
The Old Sage has a hint and scent of sage, thanks to a super-easy sage simple syrup. It’s mixed with Old Overholt Rye Whiskey (cheap as shit, but so good), lemon juice, and Peychaud’s Bitters — which very subtly mimics some of the spices associated with the holiday.
This is good. Like, get-Grandma-fucking-wasted-on-Thanksgiving good.
The Old Sage
2 ounces Old Overholt Rye Whiskey
2 ounces lemon juice
1 ½ ounces sage simple syrup
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Lemon slice for garnish
Sage leaf or sprig for garnish
To make the sage simple syrup, combine 1 cup white granulated sugar, 1 cup water, and ½ cup of loosely-packed fresh sage leaves in a saucepan over high heat. Mix well, and as soon as the mixture reaches a boil, remove from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Strain out the sage leaves and store in a bottle or jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
To assemble the cocktail, add the Old Overholt, lemon juice, sage simple syrup, and bitters to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well, and strain into a double rocks glass filled with a handful of ice cubes or one large cube. Garnish with the lemon and sage, and enjoy!
Okay, maybe “waste” isn’t a great word. But leaves, sticks and pine cones are all perfect items for your homemade tablescape, as the combination of natural elements and gold strike the perfect festive balance for winter holiday decor.
Anyway, it really doesn’t matter how you do it — you can paint three leaves or 30 — but here are a few ideas to get you started.
Collect different shapes and sizes of dried leaves or pinecones and spray paint them all gold. Scatter or arrange them around a candle or vase to add a touch of nature and glam to your holiday tablescape.
Gather fallen branches of a similar length and girth. Sand them if they’re rough, then add a festive pop by painting a few of them white or gold. Arrange horizontally around a candle holder or put them upright in a vase. A twist on this would be to coat an old jar or can with gold spray paint, then put a combination of natural and white painted sticks in it.
Add a little color to your rustic spread by putting fresh herbs or holiday buds in a vase or milk jug.
Want to make it even more interesting? Spray paint half of whatever you have, or a third. Or tape off a portion of your leaves or sticks diagonally before you paint. Mix it up however you’d like, because no matter what you do, it’s likely going to look like something out of a magazine (because it’s really hard to screw up this DIY!).
You can do this. I believe in you.
These images originally appeared in my Buzzfeed piece, 9 Surprisingly Easy Ways To Make Your Thanksgiving Table Look Better.