More than anything else in the liquor store, expensive liqueurs make my inner cheapskate cringe. I’ll happily plunk down $40 for a bottle of bourbon and dream of the cold winter evenings when it will keep me warm and toasty. But the same amount for a liqueur? Outrageous. I mean, what has it done for me lately? It’s certainly not keeping me warm on a cold night.
Luckily, the little voice in my head that I think most of us hear when looking at modern art pipes up: “I can do that. And just as well, if not better! And definitely cheaper!” Therefore, I will continue my adventures in infusing with homemade curaçao, aka orange liqueur.
Defining triple sec and curaçao, which are often considered interchangeable, isn’t the easiest endeavor. They are both kinds of orange liqueur, but apparently the difference is that triple sec is made with a neutral spirit base and curaçao is made with a brandy base. You can imagine how the flavor might vary between the two methods and preferences abound. There is a wide variety of brands out there and I haven’t tried any of them individually, but the internet assures me that the cheap stuff isn’t worth bothering with and can ruin a perfectly good cocktail.
The recipe that turned me on to the possibility of DIY curaçao comes from Marcia Simmons at Serious Eats. Her approach endeavors to create a “middle shelf” option that can be a versatile addition to your home bar and that definitely appeals to my cheapskate sensibilities. And, as it goes with any infusion, the recipe is perfectly customizable to your preferences. For comparison’s sake, I made up a batch following her recipe precisely, but I look forward to future batches and experiments to come!
DIY Orange Liqueur
Recipe taken directly from Serious Eats.
Special equipment and ingredients needed:
- Dried bitter orange peel: I found it at a local brew supply store, but it can easily be found online.
- Coffee filter or cheese cloth or both!
- Infusion container. Because I am surrounded by Mason jars, that’s what I used. Just needs to have a lid that seals.
- Fine grater or zester.
- Zest of three small naval oranges, about 1/4 cup
- 1 tbsp. dried bitter orange peel
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 cup brandy
- 1 cup vodka
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water
- Combine the zest, dried peel, brandy, and vodka in your infusion receptacle. Seal the container and shake to combine.
- Store in a cool, visible place.
- Allow the mixture to infuse for three weeks or so. Give the container a shake every few days or whenever you feel like it.
- At the end of three-ish weeks, day 19 or 20, add the cloves. Allow the mixture to steep for an additional day.
- Strain the mixture through a fine mesh colander or sieve and discard the solids.
- Strain the liquid then through a paper coffee filter. If you don’t force it through impatiently, as I did, it’ll be clearer. This step takes a while, hence my impatience.
- Combine the sugar and water in a sauce pan over high heat. Stir to combine and bring the mixture to a boil and then remove from the heat. Allow it to cool completely.
- Once the simple syrup is cool and the infused liquor is strained, combine them in your long term storage container. Allow it to rest for a day before using it, or just jump in and make your first cocktail straight away like I did.
- Store in a sealed container. No need to refrigerate. It’s mostly sugar and booze anyway.
After finding and making the Ampersand, I requested The Old Waldorf Astoria Bar Book through my library. It is a fantastic read full of pre- and post-prohibition drinks that was written by A. S. Crockett in 1935 and republished in 2003. I highly recommend you seek it out, if only for all the interesting things to learn, e.g. the word desuetude and describing something that isn’t an egg as soft-boiled. Also includes a chapter entitled “Some Things Most People Don’t Know About Liquors.”
Anyhow, when looking through the book for a cocktail to make with my new bottle of curaçao, I found this delight. Since we’ve already done a margarita, the next curaçao-heavy drink to make was definitely a Sidecar. But, I’m not huge on brandy (yet) and we incidentally have a ton of rum on hand, so this version sounded perfect. It’s a refreshing sour and the curaçao shines.
- One-third lemon or lime juice (or both!)
- One-third white rum, I used Bacardi
- One-third curaçao
Combine the ingredients (I used a whole jigger of each) in a shaker with ice and shake for 30 seconds. Strain into a glass.