I've just bottled a batch of cranberry liqueur. I had done it in college and remembered it being pretty good, so I thought I'd give it a shot again. While it was steeping, I actually contemplated doing my own distillation, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I just replaced, and had enough left over for one rather large drink. The end result has a strong, authentic cranberry flavor, but unfortunately also a strong, authentic vodka smell. I guess Stoli wasn't the best choice of base spirit. Here's how it started out:
Gunther Anderson's recipe, without the spices. Inside that jar is a pound of cranberries, 1 1/2 cups of vodka, some sugar, lemon peel, and orange peel. It was shaken gently every day for the past four weeks.
The hardest part, actually, was straining it before bottling. I started by wringing the juice out of the cranberry solids, wrapped in cheesecloth. Afterwards, the liquid was quite cloudy, so I filtered it through coffee filters. The problem was that I'd pour a half cup of liquid into the funnel and some of it would come through the filter, but then it'd just stop. The particulates were clogging the filter papers. (Paper towels did the same thing.) So I gathered up the edges of the coffee filters, held them tightly, and gently squeezed the "bag" to push the liquid out through the filter paper. I went through about a dozen coffee filters that way:
If I were to do this again, I might go with a smooth rum rather than vodka. I just find vodka rather obnoxious, even the expensive stuff. But during the Christmas season, as I pondered my dwindling Calvados supplies, I remembered another college experience: some friends and I distilled some "hard" (spoiled) apple cider into applejack. They'd got about a pallet of it from a farmer. After the first distillation, there were about five liters of 60-80 proof applejack that was a little rough but had a really nice apple flavor. A couple liters were sacrificed for re-distillation, and the end result was high enough in alcohol to burn when lit. It tasted better too.
A search quickly led me to a couple very useful-looking sites: homedistiller.org, a comprehensive DIYer site that addresses all aspects of the process, from fermenting the starting material through distilling, filtering, and aging. Here, for example, is the page about fermenting and distilling fruit (say, for example, apples). The site seems to have been compounded out of user comments in an online community. Some of the users got downright industrial about it. One guy worked out a recipe for rum using only sugar and other things you can get in a supermarket. That's great, but I don't know what compelled him to make 720 liters of it. The other useful site was Smiley's Home Distilling, which sells stills and supplies. Apparently you can get a "tabletop distiller" which is a distilled-water machine modified to run at the right temperatures for alcohol.
Luckily a family member in Indiana gave me a bottle of Calvados, so I don't have to go to that much trouble. Maybe someday. It sounds like fun and hard work. It also makes me wonder what it would make the house smell like.