Homemade Liqueurs for the Holidays

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

If you go shopping for a good liqueur, you’re essentially playing booze roulette; carefully crafted liqueurs made with quality ingredients sit beside neutral grain spirit-based liqueurs swimming in artificial colors and flavors. Packaging and pricing are suggestive of quality, but can also be deceptive. Fortunately, there’s a way to ensure that you get a great liqueur for a great price: Just make your own.

Learning a few basic techniques can allow you to create an arsenal of flavors for your home drinking experience and to share as gifts for friends and family.

In this article, we’ll write about two different processes. The first will involve heat, a technique generally used in citrus-based liqueurs. The second style of liqueur making works great with berries, cherries, and frozen fruits — it’s a process of maceration without heat. The two recipes are simple ways to get started on creating a variety of your own home liqueurs. These recipes are guidelines, so feel free to riff on them with your own ideas and ingredients.

Spiced Orange Liqueur

Orange liqueur is a very versatile product to have in your home cocktail arsenal. For the holidays, we’ve added some traditional holiday spices. This cordial will be nice on the rocks and in cocktails. Feel free to opt out of the spices or tweak which ones you use.

One important rule when working with these recipes — you can always add more at a later time, but it is much more difficult to take away. For instance, if you really like clove and add a heaping handful, you may be disappointed when all you taste is clove, but if you add a bit at a time, you can finish the process with more.

The Spiced Orange Liqueur recipe does have a bitter element coming from the pith — Come on, we’re Bittercube! Would you expect anything different? We recommend you try the recipe this way, but use a microplane to remove the zest from the oranges (instead of a peeler) to achieve a rich orange flavor with fewer bitter notes.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Spiced Orange Liqueur

Use a one gallon glass jar with a lid for this recipe

Tools:

1 six quart pot
1 Y peeler, or microplane
1 4 c liquid measuring cup
1 Citrus Juicer

Ingredients:

16 oranges (peeled or zested)
4 cups orange juice
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup honey
1 tbsp Jamaican allspice
1 tsp whole mace
½ tsp whole clove
½ stick Ceylon cinnamon
¼ tsp juniper berries
⅛ tsp black peppercorn
6 cups non-rail vodka

  1. Wash the oranges off with cold water and make sure they are clean, then dry with paper towels.
  2. Peel 12 of the oranges and add the peels to the pot.
  3. Juice all of the oranges and add the juice to the pot.
  4. Add the sugar and the honey to the pot and bring everything to a simmer.
  5. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Remove from heat and add the spices. Continue to stir. Let cool.
  7. Transfer to a sanitized gallon jar. Add the vodka.
  8. Label and date the jar. Shake daily if possible. Let macerate for at least one month, three would be better. Taste and tweak if necessary.
  9. Strain the liqueur and transfer to smaller bottles (375ml is a great gift size).
  10. Impress your friends and enjoy!

Notes: Substitute different spices or a different spirit for your twist on this recipe.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Cranberry Liqueur

Cranberry Liqueur is great for the holidays — it works in toddys, cocktails, marinades, and baking, among other applications. This recipe works with almost any berry or cherry, so after making it, tweak it with various fruit combinations. Also, use this liqueur as a substitute for cranberry juice or sweet vermouth in any of your favorite cocktails.

Cranberry Liqueur

Use a one-gallon glass jar with a lid for this recipe

Tools:
Food processor or a heavy duty blender
1 liquid measuring cup
1 large pot
1 Y peeler

Ingredients:

6 cups 2:1 Simple Syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water)
48 oz frozen cranberries
4.5 cups non-rail vodka
1.5 lemons’ worth of lemon peels
1 orange peel
1 Ceylon cinnamon stick
¼ tsp allspice
3 tbsp dried basil

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

  1. Create a 2:1 simple syrup by placing 6 cups of sugar and 3 cups of water in a large pot over medium heat. Whisk the sugar and water continuously. Remove from heat once all of the sugar has dissolved. Do not bring to a simmer.
  2. Place 2 cups of frozen cranberries and 1 cup of the warm syrup in a food processor and blend until you obtain a gritty consistency. Add to gallon jar. Continue this process until all 48 oz of cranberries have been blended. Add any leftover syrup from the 6 cups to the jar as well.
  3. Using a Y peeler, peel the citrus and add it to the jar. Using a microplane on the citrus will bring less bitterness to the citrus component.
  4. Add the spices and the vodka and seal.
  5. Label and date the jar. Shake daily if possible. Let macerate for at least one month, three would be better. Taste and tweak as necessary.
  6. Strain the liqueur and transfer to smaller bottles (375ml is a great gift size).
  7. Impress your friends and enjoy!

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Here are a few simple cocktail recipes for your new liqueurs.

Sidecar

1.5 oz Tariquet armagnac
.75 oz homemade orange liqueur
.75 oz lemon juice
.25 oz simple syrup (1:1)

Shake and strain into your favorite cocktail glass. Garnish with a smile and several drops of Bittercube Orange Bitters.

Cranberry “Manhattan”

1.75 oz Old Weller Antique Bourbon
Fat .5 oz homemade cranberry liqueur
.25 oz. dry vermouth
15 drops Bittercube Bolivar Bitters

Stir and pour over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with the peel of a lemon using that fancy new Y peeler we just made you buy.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Wiscosmo
1.5 oz Prairie Organic Vodka
.5 oz homemade cranberry liqueur
.5 oz homemade orange liqueur
.75 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
Skinny .25 oz simple syrup

Shake and strain into your favorite cocktail glass. Garnish with a thin lime wheel.

There are a number of ways to pass along homemade liqueurs as gifts. The most obvious is to make the liqueurs at home, bottle them, label them, and give them to friends and family. Another method is to gather the spices, the vodka, one-gallon jars, and print recipe cards. This doesn’t require the 1 to 3 months it takes to create the liqueur itself and gives the gift receiver some ownership of the process. And hopefully, once they complete their liqueur, they are nice enough to invite you over to imbibe them!

– Ira Koplowitz contributed to this story; Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz are the founders of Bittercube Craft Bitters

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Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz

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