In the spring as the beech leaves are emerging is the time to prepare Beech leaf Noyau. This intriguing liqueur is traditionally made with gin and young beech leave and is a springtime alternative to Sloe gin. It’s origins are obscure. I first came across it in Richard Mabey’s classic 1970s book Food for Free. He reckons it “originated in the Chilterns where large plantations of beech were put down in the eighteenth and nineteenth century to service the chair-making trade.”
Although the traditional method uses gin I made mine with white rum or you could try vodka. My thinking was that as gin is already strongly flavoured with juniper, a purer spirit would allow the flavour of the beech come through. My prototype rum version, certainly during early tastings, has a beautifully subtle flavour.
You need to pick the beech leaves when they are really new – just unfurling, pale lime green and with a soft silky texture. Older leaves quickly turn darker green and waxy and will not impart the colour and flavour of fresh pale green leaves. Incidental these young beech leaves can also be used as a salad plant. The pale green leaves have a mild flavour with a hint of lemon to them and are a fine addition to a mixed wild spring salad.
Anyway, back to the Noyau – Here’s the basic method:
Pack a 1 litre jar or crock with a lid 3/4 full of young leaves and then fill up with Spirit – gin, rum or vodka. I found that most of a 70 ml bottle made up the litre.
Leave to steep for a couple of weeks and then strain off the spirit. For 70 ml of spirit add approx 500 g of sugar dissolved in 35 ml of boiling water. (RM suggests adding a dash of brandy – I didn’t.) Bottle when cool and leave to mellow for a month or more before drinking.
Obviously, waiting until the dark days of winter when the warming bright green nectar can recall spring days might be the best time to crack the bottles.