Fixing Grainy Infused Liqeur
February 10, 2021 5:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm making sloe gin for the first time but realize I wrongly assumed the caster sugar that the recipe called for was the same as granulated sugar. As a result, the bigger grains of sugar did not fully dissolve and there's a distinct sugar "sludge" situation happening. How do I fix this so I don't end up wasting a litre of gin and all those sloes?

The mixture has to infuse for at least two months, so I have some time. So far, these are the solutions I've come up with on my own:

1) Heat the mixture to just below boiling + agitate (will this affect the alcohol at all?)
2) Strain the finished product several times through cheesecloth and/or a coffee filter (will this be fine enough to catch all the particles so that it doesn't taste grainy?)

Any other approaches I can take? I can't believe I didn't think this through and just make a simple syrup. Ugh!!!
posted by elkerette to Food & Drink (12 answers total)
I wouldn't heat it up (the alcohol will evaporate) or strain it (oils and flavors may get caught). Honestly I think the sugar will still integrate if you wait a bit and agitate regularly. Heat accelerates the process but it should still dissolve in time in the cooled mixture. This is sitting for a week or two, right?
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:09 PM on February 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Since you have a "sludge" at the bottom of the bottle, can you not pour out the rest into a jug, and see if you can dissolve the "sludge" in a splash of very hot water? Then pour the rest back in (and maybe a little extra gin to compensate). Or pour out the rest, rinse out the sludge altogether and add an equivalent amount of "fresh" simple syrup. Or yeah, just be patient and hope it dissolives!
posted by slightlybewildered at 5:10 PM on February 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

Ethanol boils at 173F, a lower temperature than water. It's helpful for distillation, but will remove the alcohol from your mixture. Would it be enough to be noticable for the short while you would heat it? I don't know.
posted by TheAdamist at 5:12 PM on February 10, 2021

I make umeshu with giant lumps of rock sugar and it all dissolves eventually.

If you're worried, you can sit the bottle in a saucepan of very hot tap water. The alcohol will not evaporate.

My recommendation is just to let time do its thing.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 5:19 PM on February 10, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: The grains take a long time to dissolve. When our family made it, we stirred it weekly. We'd do a first filter through a jam strainer, then a final one through a vacuum wine bottling filter. There wasn't much waste, but the sugar sludge had a whole bunch of lees in it you wouldn't want to consume. The sugar, alcohol and fruit lees are basically what made up those "Syrup of ____" purgatives of Victorian times. You'll be up all night squitting if you sample them.
posted by scruss at 5:20 PM on February 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Assuming that you put too much sugar in there in the first place (supersaturate the solution), if you heat the entire mixture up, it can dissolve the sugar - but once it cools down again, the sugar will crash right out (precipitate) again.

Sugar has a higher solubility in water than in alcohol. What is the final proof (alcohol content) of your solution? Is it higher than in the recipe? If so, adding more water (to lower overall alcohol content) can work.

Two months is more than enough time for the sugar to fully dissolve.

It's been unseasonably cold here - how's your indoor temperature? If your sugar concentration is right on the threshold of maximum solubility, a couple of degrees difference in temperature will cause the precipitation.

Fill a large bowl with warm water from the tap. Place a bottle into the water - unless you're using garbage glass bottles, there won't be enough pressure increase to crack it. Let it sit for ten, twenty minutes and swirl. If the sugar goes away, then yes, your sugar concentration is really close to max solubility.
posted by porpoise at 6:21 PM on February 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

From the numbers that I can find online I don't think you're anywhere near the saturation point, and really any recipe that put you at that point would be unbearably sweet so that makes sense. So I don't think you need to do anything, just let time take care of it, maybe with the help of some occasional shaking. You have plenty of time to try that before resorting to anything else (e.g. moderate heating).
posted by madmethods at 11:43 PM on February 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

My mum makes it with granulated sugar, in kilner (Mason?) jars. She inverts them once a week, or whenever she remembers; it stirs everything up and (I guess) helps both the sugar to dissolve and the sloes to circulate and, y’know, spread the love. The sugar dissolves fine.
posted by Joeruckus at 1:28 AM on February 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The infusion of the sloes into the spirit will gradually lower the ABV and dissolve more of the sugar into solution. You can help this along with gentle agitation from time to time. Under no circumstances should you heat the mixture.

In the future it makes more sense to infuse the sloes into the spirit first and then add sugar to your desired level afterwards. There is no advantage to having the sugar in there during the infusion process.
posted by slkinsey at 5:47 AM on February 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you can separate the sloes from the rest, I suggest pouring everything else into a blender and whizzing for a minute or two. This should fully pulverize the sugar (it's how I make simple syrup) and avoids any heat-based changes in proof or flavor.
posted by Maecenas at 9:14 AM on February 11, 2021

Like everyone says, it'll probably dissolve.

But I'm excited to post here because I just discovered the wonders of nut milk bags. If you need to filter, they're a good option. They're used to, well, make nut milk and they are very fine filters. Not as fine as a coffee filter or other paper, of course, but then you're also not wasting a lot of liquid having it soak into the paper. 75 micron and 200 micron filters are common sizes and they're pretty cheap: I bought this set on Amazon. I just used them to strain a chile infusion and they worked great.
posted by Nelson at 11:19 AM on February 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

As an aside, isn't adding sugar via a simple syrup often better than adding granulated (or even well-powdered) sugar for these types of purposes (including cooking)?

It's an extra step, but there's (usually, probably) a reason for it.

Like baking with flours, the measurement of sugar benefits from weight rather than volume (and depending on the type of sugar, knowing whether it's hydrated or anhydrous or the states in-between can make a very very big difference to the molecular weight).

The types of sugar, too. Mono- or di- sacharide, and if di-, which sugars make it up (fructose, glucose, etc.).

Table sugar is a (functionally anhydrous) disaccharide composed glucose-fructose. Liquid "corn syrup" is all over the board. South Asian and East Asian sugars ranges from raw to highly refined versions like maltose (glucose-glucose) which has very different properties for baking/ taste/ mouthfeel.

Specialty (confectionary) sugars can be opaque as to what it actually is composed of, outside of grain size.
posted by porpoise at 10:56 PM on February 11, 2021

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