How to Make Orange Liqueur

Orange liqueur is a definite cocktailing essential, but it can end up being quite expensive. If you’re like me and you want high quality taste without a high quality price, then the ultimate dilemma is, “How can I justify buying that bottle of Grand Marnier when I only finished it a month ago?” In BC, it runs $38.49 for a 750 ml bottle, and while it leaves behind a neat golden hue, the price does not justify it for me. I wouldn’t be satisfied with a bottle of triple sec, and Cointreau is too similar a price point to the Grand Marnier.  Keep in mind that making it yourself does not save you much money (only a few dollars cheaper), but you end up with leftovers of the ingredients, can customize it further to your palate, and creates less glass waste!

I searched high and low for an orange liqueur that I thought sounded like what I wanted to produce, and this recipe on Serious Eats sounded the best to me. What distinguished this recipe from others I found is that this one uses equal parts vodka and brandy, rather than just vodka. What I love the most about Grand Marnier is that it’s an orange cognac liqueur, so this seemed appropriate. While I would have loved to use cognac in my homemade concoction, if I could afford something like Courvoisier or Remy Martin, I wouldn’t be ruining it with a pile of flavour and sugar! Brandy would have to do.

I made the recipe exactly as given, to see how it would taste. I really don’t have any modifications to suggest. Some people left behind comments on the recipe page that indicated they didn’t like the taste of cloves and omitted it from the recipe, but I did add the cloves and there is certainly no clove taste in my final product. It was added to the final day of steeping, long enough only to round out the flavour.

As for authenticity, since I consumed all of my Grand Marnier, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I tried it in a margarita (1.5 oz reposado tequila, 0.5 oz orange liqueur, 1 oz lime juice, 0.5 oz simple syrup, shake and pour into a salted rim glass), a daiquiri (same as a margarita but with a white rum), and a beautiful (0.5 oz orange liqueur, 0.5 oz cognac), and all of them were quite tasty!

Smirnoff and St-RemyI used cheap spirits, Smirnoff vodka and St-Remy VSOP brandy. I bought the bitter orange peel from a local home-brewing supply shop. The recipe said to use “navel oranges”, and I’m not sure if that’s what I brought home; I used small-ish firm oranges that weren’t mandarins. The major point is to use a combination of sweet and bitter orange peel, like the store-bought orange liqueurs would use. I used a zester on the oranges because if you use a grater, you run the risk of having too much of the white bitter pith (bitter in the bad way, not the good way!) end up in the infusion and make it less palatable.

I’ve included some pictures of progress after the recipe directions, so you have some idea of how it will look along the way. I will absolutely be making this again!

Orange Liqueur Recipe (from Serious Eats)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup zest from 3 small naval oranges
  • 1 tablespoon dried bitter orange peel
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine zest, dried orange peels, brandy, and vodka in a small sealable container. Seal and shake. Let steep for 19 days at room temperature. On day 20, add the cloves, then seal and shake. Let steep for an additional day.

  2. Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat stirring to dissolve. Let this simple syrup cool. Strain the contents of the jar through a fine mesh strainer and then through a coffee filter. Discard the solids. Combine the strained mixture with the simple syrup in a jar or bottle. Shake and let it rest for a minimum of one day before use. Store in a sealed container at room temperature for up to one year (it’s best within three months). I didn’t have a 1L bottle, so I used two leftover 750 ml bottles.

Here are the pictures of progress:

How it looks a day after adding the ingredients.

How it looks a day after adding the ingredients.

I made sure to add 4 whole cloves (like the one on the left), as I felt the one on the right was missing the little head!

I made sure to add 4 whole cloves (like the one on the left), as I felt the one on the right was missing the little head!

Double filtered. First time through a mesh strainer, second time through a coffee filter. Definitely necessary.

Double filtered. First time through a mesh strainer, second time through a coffee filter. Definitely necessary.

After adding the orange mixture to the simple syrup.

After adding the orange mixture to the simple syrup.

After shaking and letting it sit for a day, now it's yummy and homogeneous.

After shaking and letting it sit for a day, now it’s yummy and homogeneous.