My goal in developing this recipe was to create a homebrew orange liqueur that I could use as a mixer. I wanted a good substitute for Cointreau that I could use in cocktail recipes.
Cointreau is 40% ABV (alcohol by volume). That is rather high for a liqueur. Most liqueurs range from 18% to 22% ABV. In my first attempt I tried using straight vodka for the spirit component when I first began to experiment with this recipe. Vodka, like most spirit (e.g. brandy or gin) is usually 40% ABV and after adding sugar syrup the finished liqueur was around 20% ABV. It was horrible!
After that first failure, I began to see why Cointreau was so much higher in alcohol content than other liqueurs. I discovered that to make a good orange liqueur, the alcohol content would need to be more than usual. It definitely needed more "zing."
In later attempts I used grain alcohol plus vodka and brandy for the spirit component. The grain alcohol raised the alcohol content and the brandy gave the liqueur some depth. The grain alcohol brand is Everclear. It has an alcohol content of 75.5% ABV and it is available in liquor stores. When made according to this recipe, the final ABV should be somewhere around 26%. The finished liqueur works as a substitute for Cointreau in most drink recipes. You can find recipes here in the blog for a Margarita and a Cosmopolitan.
Orange – Kumquat Liqueur (make in July when kumquats are in season)
Step One Ingredients:
- 3 cups Everclear grain alcohol
- 1 cup Vodka
- 1 cup Brandy
- 1/2 cup dried sweet orange peels
- 2 tbsp dried bitter orange peels
- 1/2 lb fresh kumquats – wedged (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 3 inch cinnamon stick – chopped
- 10 large whole cloves – chopped
- 1 cup distilled water to rehydrate the dried orange peels
Step One Instructions:
- Add dried bitter and sweet orange peels to a 2 qt. Mason jar.
- Cover the dried orange peels with 1 cup distilled water. Allow to soak for about 4 hours until the dried orange peels are rehydrated.
- Remove the "button" from each of the kumquats (the remnants of the floral calyx).
- Slice each kumquat into small wedges and add to the jar.
- Add Everclear, vodka and brandy to the jar.
- Chop the cinnamon sticks and cloves in a coffee grinder and add to the jar.
- Shake vigorously to thoroughly mix ingredients.
- Allow to macerate for 4 weeks, periodically shaking the jar.
- Do not shake the jar in the final week of maceration to simplify racking and clarification.
Step Two Ingredients:
Step Two Instructions:
- Rack off any clarified part through a metal coffee filter.
- Let settle for 3 to 4 weeks then rack off the clarified part and filter the remainder with paper coffee filters to clarify the infused spirit.
- Sweeten with standard sugar syrup with one cup standard sugar syrup per cup of clarified infused spirit.
Step One: Infusion
Shown below is a shot of all the ingredients. Back row, left to right: brandy, 2 qt Mason jar, vodka and grain alcohol (Everclear). Front row, left to right: sweet orange peels, bitter orange peels, fresh kumquats, cloves and cinnamon sticks.
One of the key ingredients for this homebrew orange liqueur recipe is bitter orange peel. I decided to use it to add contrast to the sweet orange peel and kumquat flavors. Cointreau is also made with bitter orange peels. The point here is to add a little bit of bitterness to the sweet flavors.
To the left is a shot of the bitter orange peels. Bitter orange peel (also called "Curaçao orange peel", aurantium amarae pericarpium) is available under the brand name "Brewer’s Garden", which is available from most homebrew supply stores. This botanical is used for flavoring other popular citrus liqueurs (Triple Sec, Curaçao and Cointreau) and Belgian Ale.
Kumquats also lend their sweet and bitter flavors to this liqueur recipe. As a kid when I was growing up, one of our neighbors had a kumquat tree in their backyard and we used to raid the tree and eat them raw when they were ripe and juicy. The kumquat has a natural balance of sweet and bitter. The fruit and pulp is bitter, but the rind is sweet. With most varieties of oranges, the opposite is true. For example, with Navel and Valencia oranges, the fruit and pulp is sweet but the rind is bitter.
Remove the button from each kumquat then cut them into wedges similar to the photo below.
Add sweet and bitter dried orange peels to a clean 2 qt. Mason jar then add 1 cup distilled water. Wait about 4 hours to allow orange peels to rehydrate.
Add the wedged fruit and other botanicals plus the spirit to the jar with the rehydrated orange peels, then shake vigorously to thoroughly mix all the ingredients. Set aside and allow to macerate for 4 weeks. Periodically shake the jar to mix the ingredients, but don’t shake during the last week to facilitate clarification.