Colonche (fermented prickly pear booze)

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Posts: 248
Joined: 8 years ago
Location: Phoenix, AZ

6 years ago

It all started when a friend of mine gave me some prickly pears. He must have had them in the back of his truck for a week first. When I opened the box, I found the fruit half-rotten and splitting. :(

I took the best of the bunch, and put them in a bucket of water to soak. The next day, I noticed them fizzing.

I got the bright idea to ferment them into a beverage. I mashed them, strained the juice, and put it in a growler. I didn't think it had enough sugar, so I added a healthy squeeze of honey. I topped it off with an airlock.


Afterwards, I did some Googling, and found there is a traditional fermented, mildly alcoholic beverage, made from prickly pear, called colonche.

The method to make it involves juicing the fruit and cooking it way down into a thick syrup -- I imagine to concentrate the sugars. Tibicos (water kefir grains) or a splash from the last batch may be added as a starter.

After I read this, after setting a small amount aside, I poured the juice and honey back into the pot, and simmered it down. I didn't have enough time to let it get down to a syrup state.

Once it cooled, I added back the bit that I set aside, and put into a crock, covered with a grain bag.

Overnight, it developed a bubbly scum on top:


I scooped it off, and by the end of the day, it was back full force. Turns out, it caught the wrong bug. Batch #1 turned out to be prickly pear vinegar - which is also cool, but not what I wanted.

In the meantime, my kefir water grains arrived. I used them to make a batch of lovely raspberry lime ginger kaffir lime kefir water.



Fizzy, dry, lightly fruity, and full of probiotic goodness. I'm a fan!

That was good practice. Now back to the prickly pears.

I started another batch of kefir water, with simple syrup, and to it, I added the small amount of prickly pear syrup I had stashed in the fridge, from last year. To it, I added a squeeze of orange juice, and another dash of sugar, and let 'r rip.

After about 3 days of fermenting, I racked it off. Batch #2 turned out to be a lovely, light, dry, subtly sweet, wine-like beverage with a very slight fizz.


Getting closer! I saved about 12oz of it to use as my starter for batch #3.

I collected a bunch of fresh, plump prickly pear fruit. Washed them, split them, and the froze them. Then defrosted them, ran them through the juicer, and simmered the resulting liquid down to about half.


I combined it with the remainder of batch #2, 1:1.


After about 4 days, it stopped fizzing, so I racked it off.


Batch #3 has the most prickly pear content, and it turned out very dry, and pretty tart. AGAIN, I forgot to measure the sugar content before and after, to gauge alcohol content. But it does taste slightly boozy.

I'm not sure if this is close to the real deal or not, since I've never tasted it. But it certainly has been a fun experiment!

Even though I have more prickly pears in the freezer, I am going to take a break from this project for a while, and get back to simple kefir waters. I have all sorts of flavoring agents I want to try, from dried apricots to licorice twigs. ;)
~ Korina
gardener | forager | permie | maker of things
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4 years ago

Posts: 23
Joined: 5 years ago

4 years ago

I've always wondered why no one had done a prickly pear distillation. I feel like if ever there were a spirit waiting to be taken advantage of by someone in AZ looking to cash in that would be it. Still kicking around the idea of a small still so maybe one day I'll give it a try.
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