Thursday, November 17, 2011

How to Make Cordial

Black Current Cordial
I had a great black current cordial while visiting Luxembourg.  
It was made to raise funds to support restoration and maintenance on Castle Beaufort.

Here is a photo of me and my boys exploring Castle Beaufort!

Cordial.  What is it and how do you make it?

Cordials are a fun way to use fruits from our land, either cultivated or wild.

A cordial is a drink, usually an alcoholic liqueur, with a strong fruit component.  It is typically sweet and very strongly flavored.  While not always alcoholic, most cordials have either brandy or a grain alcohol as its base.  Brandy (distilled wine) is the most common alcoholic base for making cordial, but Vodka (distilled grain or potatoes) is often used.  Whiskey (distilled barley, rye, wheat, or corn) can also be used as well as about any distilled alcohol.

One of the most common non-alcoholic cordials is elderflower cordial.  Instead of an alcoholic base, this cordial is steeped in a concentrated sugar solution.  A cordial that is non-alcoholic and then concentrated is usually called a squash.  Squashes are often mixed with still or sparkling water and served cold.

Traditionally, some cordials were mixed with herbs and were used more as a medicine.  Due to the high alcohol content, cordials were seen as a stimulant, an invigorating drink, a warming drink, or a tonic... a drink that gave a feeling of vigor or well-being.  Alcohol can obviously reduce anxiety and give a feeling of well-being due to its intoxicating properties.  We also now know that alcohol dilates surface blood vessels which happen to be near our skin's temperature sensors.  So when we drink a strongly alcoholic beverage, we get the sensation of warmth.  In reality, our core temperature doesn't change at all.  In older (and colder) times, when a person was trying to stay warm in frigid weather, a nip of strong alcohol was thought to help keep them warm.  In reality, it made them feel warmer, but the dilation of blood vessels close to the skin actually caused a person to lose body heat.

Cherry Cordial (jar on the left) steeping in the sunlight.

So how are cordials made?

The basic cordial recipe:

  • One large jar of fruit (if fruit is large, cut into small chunks)
  • Enough alcohol to cover
  • About half as much sugar as alcohol
  • Add all ingredients together, cover tightly (airtight is best), and wait anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks, gently shaking the jar about once a week.
  • Strain the liquid and store in a glass jar or bottle.
  • The cordial often improves with age (3-6 months) - unless it contains citrus

This is really about it.  Honest.  There are many, many variations based on ingredient.  We can add spices or herbs, adjust times of steeping, mash the fruit first, freeze the fruit first, use a variety or mix of base alcohols... the possibilities are limited only by our imagination.

Some tips:

  • If the cordial is too sweet, we can add some watered alcohol to balance the sweetness.  This is just a 1:1 ratio of water to whatever alcohol we used to make the original cordial.
  • We are shooting for a 20-30% alcohol content (40-60 proof alcohol by U.S. standards).  If the cordial is too strong, we can add some sugar water (again about a 1:1 ratio) or some fruit juice.
  • Use perfectly ripe fruits - maximum sugar content will give maximum flavor.
  • If our cordial starts to become less sweet over time in storage, don't worry.  This is a natural process of the more complex white table sugar (composed of glucose and fructose) breaking down into its less sweet component parts.  We can fix this if you want by just adding a bit more sugar.
  • Honey can be substituted of the white table sugar.  We may need to use less since honey is sweeter.  However, honey (especially depending on the type) does have a unique flavor profile that we may or may not want in our final cordial.

A beautiful blackberry cordial.

Some one-ingredient cordials that I have seen (some I have tried) include:

  • Cherry
  • Blackberry
  • Raspberry
  • Black Currant
  • Red Currant
  • Rose Hip
  • Prune
  • Plum
  • Blueberry
  • Cranberry

Here are some combination-ingredient cordials:

  • Raspberry and Lemon
  • Gooseberry and Lemon Verbena
  • Rhubarb and Strawberry
  • Apple and Cinnamon with Cloves
  • Orange (fruit and peel), Lemon (fruit and peel), and Vanilla Bean
  • Banana, Pineapple, and Vanilla Bean
  • Coconut, Pineapple, and Vanilla Bean


  1. Thank you for posting this!! I just found it today. I found wild roses blooming at my new home and am expecting an absolute abundance of wild raspberries (although, they could be black raspberries or blackberries. Too soon yet to tell) My sister-in-law told me to try making wild rose vanilla bean cordials with brandy. I cannot wait to give it a try! Thanks again.

  2. That sounds delicious! Please let me know how it turns out.

  3. So far I haven't found enough rose petals. But, I just put together 3 different cordials using your basic recipe. I made a kiwi, a strawberry and a cinnamon pear. I'm looking forward to trying them. If you have any advice on how long to steep them or how long I should let them rest after bottling I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for the enticing recipe!