Off the Table Spain: Homemade Rustic Ratafia

The residents of Santa Coloma de Farners possess a wonderful secret. There, almost to a household, they uphold and celebrate the ancient art of making homemade ratafia, a herb and spice infused liquor whose base is anise and green walnuts.

Off the Table Spain: Homemade Rustic Ratafia

While there are plenty of other places in the world that boast a great reputation for craft booze, it’s only in San Coloma that one of the world’s finest sommeliers and most acclaimed chefs has been on hand to judge the winner of these annual home-brew competitions. 

It was with this background that I arrived in Santa Coloma on St. John’s Eve. The mid-June day, traditionally, when the local green walnuts and multitude of herbs that go into ratafia are picked at their aromatic peak. After foraging for our core ingredients in the nearby foothills and assembling our batch of ratafia (which would need 40 additional days of repose) it was time to celebrate the patron saint festival.

This is the night that families share dinner with friends on sidewalks and in gardens throughout the town. The group we joined up with even had prepared a spectacular campgrounds bonfire. Grandparents and grandkids, parents and siblings, neighbors and friends all shared simple picnic fare, local wine, cava and conversation. 

As the evening wore on, the fireworks bagan. Blam! Boom! Craaack-craaack-craaack! Five years olds toss firecrackers with abandon, and kids just a few years older ran with roman candles and tossed more powerful noisemakers seemingly at random.

Miraculously, no one got hurt. Perhaps St. John was watching over us all. Cheers to that! 

Live It: Ratafia Making Class

While celebrating St. John’s day in Santa Coloma is a singular treat, it requires timing, wheels and Spanish (or Catalan) fluency. Instead, connect with botanist extraordinaire Evarist March, and join one of his occasional ratafia making classes, foraging for ingredients in beautiful natural environments and ratafia tasting included (English, French, Spanish or Catalan).

Note It

No two ratafias are ever the same. Each family makes their own unique version with different quantities of each ingredient, a different number and ratio of herbs, spices and flowers, differences in the maceration process and the length of maturation.

In fact, the same producer can’t even reproduce the same ratafia year-to-year, as the climate, rainfall and local conditions will affect the flavor and profile of the ingredients. In that sense, ratafia is the ultimate artisanal beverage with each maker imbuing their own style, taste & personality to the batch.

For More Information

Ask botanist Evarist March when his next group ratafia class will be held or arrange for a private session if you’re traveling with friends. For more details see: http://naturalwalks.com  

Recipe:

Rustic Ratafia 

  • Glass bottle (clear) with wide opening – large enough to hold both the alcohol you'll use + all the ingredients to be added
  • Latex gloves to avoid staining your fingers with the green walnuts
  • Scissors &/or a knife
  • Funnel

Anise flavored alcohol / liquor

  • Simple Syrup – 1/2 suger, 1/2 water mixture – boil together until sugar dissolves completely and set aside
  • Green Walnuts – the shell gives the ratafia its distinctive brown color - some smash the nut before adding, others add it whole

Spices

*Use spices you like best, and use sparingly to avoid overpowering the flavor of the ratafia.

  • Nutmeg
  • Cloves
  • Star Anise 
  • Cinnamon
  • Coffee beans                    

Herbs

Use those you like best and make sure they are well rinsed (and ideally dried) beforehand. Traditionally, herbs with the most aromatic and citrusy characteristics and those with medicinal and digestive properties are used, as ratafia is most often taken after the evening meal as a digestif. It is recommended to use the dried version of these herbs, although fresh herbs can also be used.

  • Lemon Balm
  • Thyme
  • Lavandar
  • Rosemary
  • Juniper
  • Linden
  • Oregano
  • Fennel Seeds
  • Mint
  • Hierba Luisa
  • Calaminta

Citrus Peels

Lemon, lime and orange are the peels most commonly used, but any citrus fruit rind will work.

Method:

  • Add all ingredients to the glass bottle and seal well.
  • Let macerate for 40 days in a place which receives both sun (some of the day) and shade (the rest).
  • Mix occasionally by moving / rocking the bottle once in a while (every few days).
  • After 40 days of maceration, filter with a paper or cloth filter.
  • Add simple syrup to taste -- to both sweeten and lower the alcohol content of the ratafia.
  • Leave the filtered, sweetened ratafia in a clear glass bottle (or if you have one, a small oak barrel) for a couple of months to mature.
  • Filter once more before final bottling.

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