You know the drill by now. Every week I do gameday recipes with a “Buffalo” flair added to them. While we’re waiting for game days to start up again, it’s the perfect time for offseason prep. Namely, the official Wingin’ It 2021 celebratory cordial! If you start now it’ll be ready by mid-April and aged well for the upcoming season.
I might have found the ultimate “Buffalo” recipe here. Nalewka is a type of cordial (technically) that hails from Poland. At its roots it’s quite simple. Macerate fruit in grain alcohol with some sugar tossed in. Let it sit. Enjoy. The only real difficulty is patience. And for many people, drinking it. Seriously, this isn’t for everyone.
Normally I try to avoid the “online recipe novel” section before I get into the nitty-gritty but this time I need to make an exception. And besides, you have until mid-Summer to read this. A bookmark might be a good idea too.
When I say it’s technically considered a cordial what I’m getting at is that the amount of sugar and use of fruit flavors means there’s not a better classification. The amount of alcohol left in here really means it’s its own thing though.
If you’ve heard of the bowling ball shots that are popular with a certain crew—that’s a type of nalewka. They use a popular brand of cherry you can find in stores. It tops out at about 50 percent alcohol, which is pretty potent, outdoing a lot of straight spirits. Homemade can go as high as 75 percent from what I’ve researched and based on flame and “drinking it” tests I’ve done over the years I feel confident saying homemade is in its own class.
This is the reason for my essay before the details. Please, please, please for the love of all things holy take this seriously. The alcohol listed in the ingredients WILL have warnings on the bottle. READ THEM! Even regular drinkers need to be careful around this stuff. A shot glass is a SIPPING drink.
Serves: A lot over a long period of time
Active Time: 30 min initially with follow-up time listed below
Total Time: Over two months
750 ml bottle of grain neutral spirits
1⁄2 cup sugar
Small amount of a hot pepper, chopped small* (see pics below)
2 large red bell peppers, chopped small*
You will need: Empty 750 ml, sterilized bottle. Funnel. Cheese cloth
- Using funnel, pour half of the spirits into your empty bottle. You can make a second batch at the same time, see tips below.
- Dry the funnel, then pour sugar into the bottle(s).
- *Chop up peppers into small enough chunks to easily fit into the neck of the bottle. They’ll need to come out again in two months so little is good. Add your spicy pepper first, then bell peppers until the bottle is just over 3⁄4 full or so. See pictures below for reference.
- Twist bottle to stir as shown below and set aside.
- Twist bottle to stir at least every other day for two months or until no visible sugar is present.
- After at least two months, pour liquid into a temporary container such as a large jar or glass bowl. (If you have another sterilized bottle ready you can skip step 7 and pour from one bottle to the other like in step 8.)
- Remove pepper chunks from bottle and thoroughly clean/sterilize it.
- Line funnel with cheese cloth and strain liquid back into bottle.
- Enjoy in small quantities to celebrate Bills victories.
Wingin’ It Tips:
Strap in there’s a lot of advice I have for you. The top two choices for grain-neutral spirits are Everclear and Bak’s Spirytus. Both are often locally available. I prefer Bak’s not just because it slightly edges out the other with an ABV of 96 percent (you read that right). It has sweeter notes on the nose and seems to blend flavors a little better. Yes, I know. Only 4 percent of whatever is in the bottle is “not alcohol” but I swear there’s a difference.
To sterilize the bottles I use boiling water. The funnel once again comes in handy here and I recommend using gloves or a pot holder. It also may help you to place the bottle in the center of an empty large stock pot while pouring the boiling water through the funnel.
You may not have identical bottles to halve your grain alcohol, but that’s OK. Here’s a trick to get halves without measuring instruments. Lay your “donor” bottle (the new one you bought alcohol in) on its side. By looking at the neck, it’s easier to eyeball half a bottle this way than it is standing. If your donor bottle has half left, the recipient bottle has the other half. Forgive my camera angle but I think it’s easy to see that this bottle still is a bit over half.
You can make two batches of the same nalewka at the same time because each only used 375 ml of the grain alcohol to leave space in the bottle for sugar and your selected fruits. I used a blueberry and cranberry combination while I was making this one. Here they are side by side.
Please be VERY careful about how much of the spicier pepper variant you added. I’m over a month into my bottle and the bell pepper imparts a TON of the flavor. This alcohol is potent enough on its own that it can trigger significant esophageal irritation alone. If you recently had difficulty swallowing food and feel there could be even slight abrasions in your esophagus please abstain from drinking this until you’re sure everything is healed—seriously. Adding a ton of heat from a pepper is a really bad idea. You just want a taste. This is how much I added for reference. Everything else you see is bell pepper. I also recommend avoiding any super-hot variant of pepper.
Some final tricks. You want to make sure the bottle isn’t overfilled so you can mix it. Here’s an OK shot of how far I fill mine (the space you see is about a half-inch or so from the neck). This is roughly 30 min after I put in the bell pepper. You can already see that my RED peppers have been stripped of enough color to turn orange.
And now for mixing! I don’t recommend an aggressive shake of the bottle. The flavor you add will combine with no agitation so it’s the sugar you need to work in. Shaking the bottle the usual way doesn’t kick up all the sugar and over time you’ll develop a single layer at the bottom rather than individual crystals. I turn the bottle to about a 45º angle and aggressively twist it. This gets the sugar to completely change position and the spin kicks it around to mix. Here’s a look. Weiner assistance is optional. You may want to do this over a soft surface in case you drop it.
In roughly two months’ time the grain alcohol will pull as much flavor and sugar as you’re gonna get. It’s time to strain. I’d show you the finished product but I still have a few weeks to go myself as I started January 1. I’ll be updating things on Twitter so you can see the progress there. You can also ask me questions in the comments, or email me at email@example.com