John French, on Making ‘Water of Fruits’

"The lesser quantity,
Take strong Proof-spirit 1 gallon, Juniper-berries 6 ounces 3 drams and a quarter, Quince parings dry, Pippin parings dry, of each 3 ounces a dram and a half, Limon pils, Orange pils dry, of each 1 ounce 5 drams, Nutmegs 3 drams and a quarter, Anniseeds 3 ounces a dram and half, Cloves a dram and half ; distil them into Proof-spirit according to Art; to the spirit add Strawberries, Raspices bruised, of each 8 ounces, stir them well together ; and after 10 dayes, it being clear, may be drawn off; then dulcifie it with syrup made as is hereafter taught, and so let in stand till it be clear, and then draw it off for use."

John French, The London-Distiller (1667)

This recipe, from a 1667 manual of distillation techniques penned by John French of the Company of Distillers of London – now the Worshipful Company of Distillers – is for a fruity, spicy distilled spirit (it sounds a lot like a flavoured gin to me) that could make for a rather excellent Christmas tipple.

Juniper berries, quince and apple “parings” (peel), lemon and orange “pils” (peel again?), plus nutmeg, aniseed and cloves; all re-distilled into a proof-spirit that has strawberries and raspices (raspberries) added to it, and is then “duclcifie[d]” (sweetened) with syrup? What’s not to like? I’d give that a sip, it sounds quite delicious.

The addition of fresh strawberries and raspberries would seem to suggest that it’s a drink for making in summer and then saving until winter, except there wouldn’t be much fresh quince or apple peel to be had. So maybe early Autumn, if you have a late enough variety of strawberries to work with? Of course, with the benefit of modern technology in the form of a freezer, you could freeze your summer fruit, then distil your waters in mid-November and just keep it for a month or so. I suspect the longer maturation period might give it more of a kick though.

However, I really must stress that if you are planning on giving this recipe a go, you should definitely review whatever laws in your nation, state or local area apply to the practice of distilling your own spirits. At first glance it might seem that the above isn’t all that different to making a fruited gin or vodka, but it does call for a re-distillation stage, so that’s probably a whole other kettle of legal niceties and duty money owed to the Government. Don’t tell me you haven’t been warned if the Revenue comes knocking and busts you for running an illegal hooch operation, ‘kay?

Also, if you are going to go ahead, then you’ll need to set yourself up with some distilling equipment, like so:

Diagram of seventeenth century distilling equipment, including copper bottoms, barrels, brass or pewter pipe and an alembick.

You know, I’m not entirely sure that’s the sort of kit you’ll find in your local home-brew shop, but I might be wrong. The brick-built furnace looks like it will require specialist installation as well, I really don’t think a home barbecue kit is going to be up to the job.

You’ll note as well that this recipe is headed “The lesser quantity”… the original text has a previous entry for ‘the greater quantity’, just in case you’re minded to produce Water of Fruits on an industrial scale.

What do you reckon? Does ‘Water of Fruits’ sound like your sort of tipple? Do you happen to have the necessary kit – and/or legal licenses – and feel inspired to distil your own? If so, please do let me know how you get on, via the comments.

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