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.

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The Mai Tai

This cocktail took a lot of research and a lot of planning to make. It was definitely worth it though! We went out of our way to use good quality alcohol, though I wouldn’t necessarily say that lower quality alcohol wouldn’t fare well, since a lot of sugar does get added.

First things first, the Mai Tai recipe, for which I have Beachbum Berry to thank. I will post his recipe first before I discuss the modifications we made.

Beachbum Berry’s Mai Tai:
– 1 oz. Rhum Clément VSOP Martinique rum
– 1 oz. Appleton Estate Extra dark Jamaican rum
– 0.5 oz. orange Curacao
– 1 oz. fresh lime juice
– 0.25 oz orgeat syrup
– 0.25 oz simple syrup
Add at least 2 cups of crushed ice, then shake well for around 10 seconds. Pour unstrained into a double old-fashioned glass. Sink your spent lime shell in the drink, and garnish with a mint sprig.

How I made the drink:
– I did not use the Rhum Clément VSOP Martinique rum, but instead used Saint James Royal Saint James Rhum AgricoleAmbre Martinique rum. You can choose to dial up/down the quality/price of this rum however you prefer; the most important thing about this rum is that it is a “rhum agricole”. How does rhum agricole differ from traditional rum? Traditional rum is distilled from molasses, which is sugarcane juice by-product. This tends to produce a sweet bold taste. Rhum agricole is distilled from the sugarcane juice directly. This tends to be more expensive and while still sweet, has a slightly different flavour. The variation in the English versus French nomenclature is dependent on the country of origin. Traditional rums are commonly produced in Jamaica (an English-speaking country), and les rhums agricoles are commonly produced in Martinique (a French-speaking country).

  • I did use the Appleton Estate Extra dark Jamaican rum because I was able to find it in my Appleton Estate Extra Darklocal liquor store. I was also stoked to try it out because I had been a long-time fan of the regular Appleton’s rum and figured I would love it. I did enjoy it but if rhum agricole is a sipping-on-the-beach flavour, then the extra dark Appleton’s was like a falling-off-a-surfboard flavour. It was good and I would buy it again, but if I were to make another Mai Tai, I would swap this out with a cheaper dark rum like Havana Club (about $10 cheaper for a 750mL bottle)

  • I did not use orange curacao because I could not afford it and didn’t want to spend a pretty penny on something I was using only 0.5 oz of. I used triple sec. If you happen to have orange curacao lying around, by all means, go for it! Hell, if you have Cointreau or Grand Marnier lying around, try those too! Just whatever you do, do NOT use BLUE curacao. That is the stuff that makes the drink look dirt brown when combined with the orgeat syrup. I stopped drinking Blue Hawaiians when I was 20. :P

  • It’s winter where I am and limes are 2 for $1. I was making the Mai Tais for a house party, and anticipated making 25 Mai Tais. I did not want to spend $13 on limes, so I bought some Reallime. It is really from limes but if you are sensitive to sulfates, don’t use it because they put it in there as a preservative. Since it is a concentrate, we also halved it and used 0.5 oz in each drink.

  • Orgeat syrup is one of the yummiest things ever if you like almonds!! I made it at home using this recipe right here! The person who wrote the recipe also wrote an outstanding article on why the muscle in boiling, mashing, straining fresh almonds is not only a giant pain in the arse but actually will yield the exact same product as what you get from store-bought almond milk. I used Natura unsweetened almond milk because it had the least amount of sodium in it per serving (the article discusses that as well).
    You will also need to procure some orange blossom water which is actually easier to find than you would think. Hit up a Mediterranean market or section in a regular grocery store or any other grocer that sells speciality/gourmet ingredients. It’s not “gourmet”-priced either. It was $2 for a 300 mL bottle.

  • Simple syrup is dead easy to make. It’s equal parts water and granulated sugar. Boil the water add the sugar til dissolved, BOOM!

One more note on the choice of rum: personally, I would not choose a very cheap rum because even with the sugar, I still don’t think it would taste good. I would however experiment with a spiced rum like Sailor Jerry in place of the extra dark rum. I would not recommend using Kraken because though it’s dark and yummy, it’s dark because of food colouring, not because of any sophisticated distillation process.

You might also be thinking “Well now that I have all this orgeat, what the f— else am I supposed to make with it?” Personally, I would stick with sweet liquors like rum, bourbon, cognac. I wouldn’t expect it to work well with a gin because that’s too herbal tasting and you could mix it with vodka if you are adding many other strongly-flavoured components which may not go well with a more distinctly flavoured spirit.

Further reading:
Wikipedia Rum page
Havana Club rum
Natura Almond Milk

Cocktail Bitters – What? When? Why?

What are cocktail bitters?
A simple description would be that they are a concentrated herbal distillation that is used to flavour cocktails, cure various ailments, and have a “bitter” flavour.
A more complex description can be found on the Wikipedia entry for “Bitters”. It goes into the history and preparation of bitters quite nicely.

Things that intrigued me the most bittersbottlesabout cocktail bitters and what got me hooked was the dizzying array of flavours available and how they can be used to change and customize a cocktail easily, without needing to think too much about volume, ratios, sugar, etc. If you’ve never seen bitters before, they usually come in a bottle with a little hole at the top or in a little eye-dropper bottle. Bitters are added to drinks in quantities of drops. You might think something so teeny tiny wouldn’t have such a BIG impact on a drink, but it does! A yummy impact!!

Where to begin? There are SO MANY different flavours and brands available, it’s enough to make someone crazy!
First off, ensure that your bitters are in fact, in alcohol. Some bitters brands (cough Fee Brothers cough) are in a glycerine base. Go into any cocktail/bartending supply shop, and the people working there will all tell you the same thing and advise you against using their products. They are stocked simply because some people will go in and ask for them by name.

Once you’ve determined that your bitters are in alcohol, then it will come down to flavour preference. Are you the kind of person that LOVES chocolate? Buy some chocolate  bitters! Do you like citrus fruit? Buy some citrus bitters! Do you like fruit of any flavour? Buy some orange bitters, cranberry bitters, cherry bitters, the list goes on and on. You can add any flavour of bitters to any flavour of cocktail you want. No, really. I’ve added aromatic bitters to a rum and coke, I’ve added citrus bitters to a gin and tonic – there really are no rules to which flavours you can combine. It’s all up to personal preference and you will start to combine things which you think will taste the best!

If you don’t know where to start and are getting overwhelmed with titles like “Burlesque bitters”, “Bolivar bitters”, and “Moondog”, here are a couple of flavours I would recommend starting with:

“Aromatic” bitters – this is the flavour of the classic Angostura Bitters, but you can buy the “aromatic” flavour from other producers. I quite like the Angostura bitters, and have nothing bad to say about their classic flavour (their orange bitters on the other hand are in a glycerine base).

The unmistakable Angostura bottle with its characteristic oversized bottle label.

The unmistakable Angostura bottle with its characteristic oversized bottle label.

Another brand’s aromatic bitters which I like are made by the Hella Bitters company. To me, aromatic bitters actually taste more sweet than bitter, a bit like cherry mixed with a nondescript herbal flavour.
The neat thing about aromatic bitters is that they are also medicinal. Feel a little tummy upset and like your intestines are about to go on strike? Take a good tablespoon of Angostura and voila, stomach and intestinal spasms are gone!! (give it 20 minutes or so to take effect – your mileage may vary; I’m not a doctor, Jim!)

“Citrus” or “Orange” bitters – adds a nice citrus kick to something that is less intense than adding lemon or lime juice. I’ve even used several drops of citrus bitters in lieu of lemon/lime juice – it’s not quite the same but it’ll do when you can’t make it to the grocery store. Sometimes, having the gentle essence of orange is better than juice because the bitters won’t spoil and you can only add so much juice before your cup runneth over! You will find many cocktail recipes that use orange bitters; probably as many that you will find that use triple sec/Cointreau/Grand Marnier. It’s a versatile flavour that you can use in many ways. Citrus bitters I would recommend would be by Hella Bitters, and Orange bitters I would recommend would be by Bittercube or Regan’s.

Honestly, the best and most fun way to try bitters is to head to your local bartending supply shop and ask them if they offer samples. If they don’t, ask the bartender really nicely and then tip them generously if they let you try them. ;) Then, go ahead and start experimenting! :)