You don't need to wait until Autumn to start infusing gins with wild ingredients. This liqueur is made from the young leaves of beech trees and takes just three weeks to prepare — although the longer you wait, the more your patience will be rewarded.
Flavoured gins have had a renaissance in recent years but when it comes to foraged infusions, it's often the summer florals, like elderflower, flowering currant and rose, and autumn fruits like sloe, blackberry and rosehip that take centre stage. Beech leaf noyau is less well known than its fruity counterparts but those who make it will tell that it swiftly becomes one of their annual must-makes.
Beech leaf noyau has a complex, herby and nutty flavour that some say is reminiscent of Benedictine. It is made using the young leaves, ideally when they have just unfurled and are still tacky and bright green. Try and recruit some helpers to pick the leaves, as you'll need the best part of a carrier bag full. You can tell them they will be rewarded in due course!
Unlike the French liqueur creme de noyaux, which is brandy-based and flavoured with almonds or the kernels of peaches, plums or cherries, there are no beech nuts or kernels involved in this infusion. Noyau is translated as kernel or stone though and there is a theory that this liqueur may have originally been made using beech nuts. The version with leaves is said to have been first brewed by the woodworkers in the Chiltern hills in the 18th and 19th centuries.
1 loose carrier bag of young beech leaves
1 x 70cl bottle of gin
100g caster sugar
- Rinse your beech leaves and leave to dry, allowing time for any remaining bugs to make an exit.
- Take a clean, 1.5l jar (or jars) with a screw top lid and pack with the leaves.
- Pour in the gin, making sure the leaves are submerged, and leave for three weeks, turning occasionally. Any leaves that sit above the level of the alcohol and turn brown can be removed.
- Make a sugar syrup by adding 100ml of caster sugar to 200ml of water and gently heating until it dissolves. Leave to cool.
- Strain the gin and steeped leaves through a sieve into a jug and leave to drip to preserve as much of the liquid as possible. Discard the leaves.
- Add the cooled syrup and the brandy to the noyau.
- Using a funnel, pour the liquid into a sterlised 1l bottle. Put away in a cool, dark place to mature for a few months before drinking.
Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!