Beech Leaf Noyau
This sweet, nutty, gin-based liqueur can be drunk just three weeks after preparation – though if you can manage to leave it for longer you will be rewarded with an even deeper, more rounded flavour. You’ll need a wide-necked jar with an airtight lid of at least 750ml capacity (or use several smaller ones) and two empty 700ml bottles (one of which could be the bottle the gin comes in).
The name ‘noyau’ comes from the French word for the stones of fruits such as peaches or apricots, which were used to make almond-flavoured liqueurs known as ‘crème de noyau’. This version, using newly emerged beech leaves, is said to originate with the bodgers (forest woodworkers) of the Chiltern hills in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Serve the chilled noyau neat or over ice.
- Young, tender, translucent beech leaves, enough to fill your jars
- 1 × 700ml bottle gin
- 200g caster sugar
- 350ml brandy
- Loosely pack beech leaves into your jar(s), and pour in the gin. Ensure all of the leaves are immersed – use the handle of a clean wooden spoon to push them down if necessary, and remove any that don’t stay submerged. Put the lids on the jars, make a note of the date of bottling, and store in a cool, dark place for at least 3 weeks.
- Strain the infused gin through a sieve into a jug or bowl, allowing the leaves to drip as much gin as possible before you discard them.
- In a separate jug, mix the caster sugar with 350ml warm water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Leave to cool. Add the brandy and cooled sugar water to the gin, mix well and pour into two sterilised 700ml bottles.
- You can either drink the noyau immediately, or leave it to mature for another month or so.
Recipe by Wild Food UK; development and photos by Otherwise for Wild Food UK
You don’t put the sugar in with the leaves?
no we add it after the infusion.
This recipe came from the ground breaking ‘ Food for Free’ written by Way ahead of his time.. Richard Mabey first published in 1972
I made this last year for the first time and it was wonderful. Everyone says how the taste has a herby flavour reminiscent of Benedictine. I have today gathered a new crop of Beech leaves for this year’s batch.
Could you do it in a plastic bucket or larger container, as I’m thinking how do you get all the leaves out of the bottles once finished if you want to reuse the bottles?
There’s nothing wrong with using a bucket, not only is it easier to remove the leaves but you will be making larger quantities of Noyau!
I use large coffee jars, that works well
I’m thinking of making this, but it doesn’t say how much gin to use. (A 1ltr, 70cl or .5cl?)
Also, I thought I’d try whisky instead of brandy.
I usually use a 70cl bottle but it’s always good to experiment with recipes. Good luck with the whisky, let me know if it works.
I made this from Richard Mabey’s book “Food for Free” . Twenty years ago.. I didnt bother with adding brandy or water (although you could add a reduced amount of water if you want) I kept it for a few months and it came out a nutty brown colour and was very pleasant… People kept asking for it… It was a little like one of those very expensive liqueurs
do you remove the leaves and discard after 3 weeks?
The leaves can be left in the bottle or the bottle drained to separate the leaves, it’s personal choice.
Are the leaves in july too tough to make the gin?
The leaves need to be used when soft and almost translucent for about the first three to four weeks of being out so I would think it is too late now but I have never tried at this time of year and if you have any young beech hedges nearby they may still have some new soft leaves growing.
When the recipe says loosely pack the leaves, I take it you mean loose enough to let the gin circulate round them but still get a good load of them in?
We all make it differently, I jam pack an empty gin bottle with leaves and still manage to fit nearly all the gin back in.
I don’t often comment on sites like this, its a great and informative place to visit and I do several times a year. However, occasionally I feel the need to say something, so here goes:- I’ve made this drink for 5-6 years, I never make enough….and I go easy on the sugar. So, I picked my leaves the last few days, 21 and 23 April this year, (no rain so they’re slow to start 2021) I’ve packed 4 x 2 litre mason jars to the lid with leaves, poured over 7 litre’s of “Aldi” Gin, because its really good quality. In a month or so, 4-5 weeks normally, I’ll then add 150g sugar with 250ml of Water per Litre of Gin and (a bottle) 700ml of a good VSOP or better Brandy. This should give me 14.5 to 15 litre’s of the finest drink known to man. Pour over ice, top up with tonic and a slice of lemon or lime , and you’ll soon find out why I never ever make enough.
WildFoodUK, one of the great sites. Keep it up.
Hi George am trying this does it make a huge difference if the leaves turn brown ?
Hi Mike, not at all, if they’re young when picked, the browning is natural. Sorry for the delay, wasn’t notified there was a message.
Mike, replied without checking mine….just checked and the first inch is browning, the rest still green, also noticed a mistake in my recipe, 150g sugar and 75ml water to 1L gin, don’t know what was on my mind, but knew there was an error, that’s why I revisited today. always half the sugar to water for syrup. Plus, I tasted Aldi’s Napoleon Brandy and bought 6 bottles today as it so smooth and I’m getting ready for my first batch in a weeks time.
If anyone is wondering, No I don’t work for Aldi but I recognise quality when I find it; regardless of price.
I absolutely love this. Made it for the first time about 12 years ago for a couple of years and have now revisited it. Have just started soaking the leaves today – 2nd May. So looking forward to drinking and sharing this with friends whom I have extolled the virtues of and have never tried it.
Thanks for the earlier advice on filling the jars. The leaves around us in central Scotland are only just now filling out and I managed to get a good load into the jars and just fit in all the gin. 2 Litres safely tucked away for a “wee snooze”. Fingers crossed, I will let you know how it goes.
Hi, the leaves have been steeping for just over 4 weeks now. There is definitely a flavour developing but the colour is still quite light. Will it spoil if its left alone for another 4 weeks (or longer)? The leaves were very young and tender when bottled.
I’ve just bottled this up. I have to say it tastes mainly of brandy. I tasted it as gin and the sugar syrup and then I could taste something very interesting and herby. Other recipes put far less brandy in than you have. Will it soften if I leave it a few weeks?
It is best to leave it for more than six months, the flavour mellows a lot. I can be quite hard to wait that long though!
Hi, thats the leaves been in for 6 weeks now. Colour (light green) developing and it looks ok so i am tempted to leave it for a while yet. Anyone leave them for longer??
I left mine for 3 months, and the flavour was great: really nutty.
Thanks for the comment Simon, I will keep them going for a while yet, it all still looks fine.
Noyau must mean infusion, then.
Interesting to read that the forest workers made this. What did they call it?
I would like to try this but can I omit the sugar, please?
I’ve never tried without sugar but it can’t hurt. Maybe use some sweet cicely or lime flowers to sweeten it.
Any suggestions for a nice mixer to go with it?
Fizzy water and a slice of lemon is my choice as the Noyau has quite a strong flavour which will be ruined by sweet mixers.
Hi, we added too many leaves to the jar and the top layer turned brown (a couple were sticking a bit out of the gin but were still damp). There was no mould and we removed the top layer after a week, will the noyau still be good to drink if we prepare it correctly from here on in?
It will be fine, the gin will stop any mould or bacteria. I just tried some of mine that was at least three years old and although it is difficult to wait, it is better after maturing for a few years. It wasn’t will power for me, I lost the bottle at the back of a cupboard!
Thanks for the advice! We’ll try to wait
I’’m not keen on gin as a drink and was wondering if I could use vodka instead?
I’ve done it with vodka and it came out fine, I prefer it with gin but there isn’t much between the two. I imagine adding a few juniper berries would be a nice addition with vodka.