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It's That Time of Year - Make Your Own Cointreau / Triple Sec / Orange Bitters

I make quite of few of my own bitters, and liqueurs. And my own cocktail cherries, but my favorite time of year is when citrus is in season and I can restock my supply of homemade citrus infusions.

I already have two bottles going. Basically just fill a 750ml bottle with 50% Grain alchohol and 50% vodka. The grain is harder for me to get so I stretch it with the vodka. Straight vodka is fine if you don't have grain. Been using Sobieski on the vodka front, but anything reasonable will do. (Let's not restart the whole vodka debate for the 100,000th time, colorless flavorless liquid, as long as you are not buying total plonk they pretty much all taste the same, particularly for these purposes.)

The rest is easy. I have one bottle filled with the peels of some very nice satsuma tangerines, and another with the peel of some yummy tangelos. Having tasted both already they are quite simply amazing and far superior to ANY commercial product including Cointreau. Gran Marnier is a bit of a special case, but I prefer these even to Gran Marnier.

Once they have infused for 5-10 days strain the peels out. NEVER let the peels get exposed to the air. You'll kill the batch with nasty off peel tastes. I ruined a batch that way last year.

If I want to drink it plain I typically add a touch of simple syrup and serve it neat, or with a bit of ice.

In cocktails I use it straight in lieu of orange bitters or Cointreau, adjusting the sweetness accordingly.

You can use pretty much any peel or zest. On oranges with thicker skin I typically zest.

You can also use dried peel. I dry my own on the radiator, or a combo of dried and fresh for some very nice complex flavors.

Give it a whirl. Promise you will be blow away by just how tasty it is. My nearly tea totaling, 70-something year old Italian mother in law who has been making her own liqueurs since childhood (for company) couldn't resist a second thimbleful last night after dinner!

Oh, and once you make them, if they mellow in a cool dark place for a 1-6 months, some of the sharper flavors fade and more orange candy notes gain in predominance...

Sorry this post is such a mess, I keep adding, editing, really should redo the whole post.

Couple of other items. In the bottle ALWAYS keep the peel covered with booze! If the peel is exposed to the air it will ruin the batch. A few floaters on top is okay, but if you pile them so high that they are out of the liquid, add more liquid.

Also if you use grain, you can always dilute down with water by about 40% when it is done, and add sugar to taste.

Other notes: Don't do this with fresh bitter orange (great for marmelade), just harsh, or bergamot, which might make an excellent cologne (did I mention I make my own) but is not really that palatable as a libation.

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  1. Very short version of this recipe:

    Take peel of good oranges or tangerines, enough to nearly fill a 750 ml bottle.

    Soak in vodka for 5-10 days making sure they stay covered.

    Strain, mix with sugar or simple syrup to taste.

    Enjoy straight, with an ice cube, or in a margarita or mai tai in lieu of triple sec.

    5 Replies
    1. re: StriperGuy

      Actually decanted and strained my most recent batch after 48 hours and it was done. No need to wait 5 days.

      1. re: StriperGuy

        Just finished filling two bottles and now the wait. This is my first try at this and I'm anxious to taste it.
        Is it alright to wait 5 days even though it would be done in 2 days?

        1. re: Infomaniac

          Don't know honestly. Per DSPs comments I now am more inclined to pull the peel after a day or two.

          I think the longer you leave the peels you may in fact lose some of the more volatile, fruity notes and get more of a classic orange candy flavor. I taste it as I go, If you like the taste after a day or two take the peels out.

          Don't think it can hurt as long as the peels are submerged.

          1. re: StriperGuy

            Thanks...I'm just not sure I'll be able to get to it on Sunday, but I'll tend to it on Monday.

    2. Have you tried zesting the peels using a microplane or similar? I think you could drop the infusion time drastically. But if you're going to wait six months anyway, it's probably not worth the time savings.

      3 Replies
      1. re: davis_sq_pro

        I have...

        Honestly, even with the whole peels (thin satsumi in particular) I bet most of the infusion is done in 24 hours. I just do it for a week or so to to be thorough.

        1. re: StriperGuy

          Have you seen high-proof brandy anywhere in this area? I've heard that such a thing exists, but have never seen it. Thinking that it might make for a nice base for something like this. (151 rum would be good too.)

          1. re: davis_sq_pro

            I've never seen high proof brandy other than Slivovitz, which might be interesting.

            Maybe some of those newly available Eastern European products that are now becoming more common in Boston. Will have to scour Marty's, Blanchards, Martignettis.

            I like rum based orange liquers as well (Creole Shrub, etc.) but they are a very particular thing. Would be darned good with any overproof rum...

            I have on occasion mixed my own citrus infusion with equal parts Remy Martin and then added a smidge of simple syrup. Quite nice.

      2. This from the book The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook by James Green

        Grand Marnier Domestique
        250 ml primo-quality brandy
        1 sumptuous organic orange
        2/3 cup granulated sugar
        1 wide mouth 1/2 gallon clear glass jar with a metal lid (make four holes in the lid so that string can pass through them)
        Some string
        4 wooden toothpicks

        Basically, he suspends the orange with the toothpicks and string from the lid of the jar over the sugars/brandy mixture. The sugar/brandy mixture is not to be jostled too much or mixed together before closing the lid. This is to be undisturbed for 10 days, except for a careful rotation of the jar once a day (marnier magic, he calls it). The vaporous menstruum will rise and condense the orange peel. As it clings to the peel, it will extract the orange's volatile oils and drip back into the pool of sweet brandy below, being one of the most subtly dramatic herbal extractions you will ever witness.

        On day 11, remove the orange and stir any undissolved sugar.
        Sip some more.

        He also suggests trying modifications, like plugging some cloves into the orange before suspending the orange.

        I plan on trying this method and will report back. :)

        7 Replies
        1. re: isadorasmama

          Hmmmm, VERY interesting. Amazing that you get anything out of the orange that way...

          1. re: StriperGuy

            Hey, Stripey: I was intrigued by your mention, at the very top, of bergamot cologne. Are you going to tell us more, or do I need to wander the world until I find you by your delicious fragrance?

            1. re: somervilleoldtimer

              So one of my other longstanding hobbies is making my own cologne. Basically I have a huge collection of essential oils, which when blended with alcohol make really wonderful fragrances. Quite of few are used in cooking and for perfumery. Think oak moss, cedar, jasmine, vetiver, lavender, sandalwood, neroli, galbanum, ambergris, bitter orange, pettigrain, etc.

              It is really on a continuum with cooking, wine, making bitters and liqueurs... In fact I sometimes joke that my cocktail / bitters / Liqueur making is essentially just drinking cologne.

              The bergamot stuff really did smell like cologne. Not much for drinking though.

              There are lots of places on line that sell pure essential oils (don't buy synthetics, or blends.) Most of them are very reasonably priced with the exception of a few. A couple of eye droppers and some grain alcohol (or denatured stuff specifically for perfumery) and you are good to go.

              1. re: StriperGuy

                A few years back I distilled a combo of winter and summer savory that made the best cologne. I'm working on a soap and perfume that has the same botanicals as our bitters. Spice bush, lavender, rose petals, chamomile, angelica seed, bitter orange, juniper berry, etc.

                1. re: JMF

                  Very cool.

                  If you ever do make it to Boston please ping me striperguy at yahoo dot com

            1. re: davis_sq_pro

              I just noticed a recipe in this month's Imbibe for lemoncello made using this technique. You're supposed to suspend a bundle of clean lemons over 750mL of everclear at the bottom of a big jar, and then leave it in a dark place for three months. After which you add sugar and strain through a coffee filter.

              Given the extremely long process and the everclear, I could see this working quite nicely, but the last step seems a bit odd to me; why would this need to be filtered?

          2. OK, so I now have about 3/4 of a quart jar of very tangerine-y looking Everclear. I went ahead and did the full two weeks (was out of town for the first one, so why not). Now I just need to figure out how I'm going to mix it down into something else.

            When I pulled out the peels, I first tossed a handful into the kitchen trash. Then I thought better of that as I heard the burner on the gas oven come on about 5 feet away. I took all the peels out back and put them in the fire pit. All it took was a spark and they burned down to ash over 10 min or so.

            I have a few grapefruit that I picked from a family tree in FL over the holidays. Thought about doing something similar to the zest. The problems are that I have no idea what I'd do with it afterward, and there's a little bit of black funk on the skin that I'm not sure I want to infuse into my booze.

            5 Replies
            1. re: ted

              What was the goal of burning the peels?

                1. re: davis_sq_pro

                  I think ted wanted to avoid igniting his boozy kitchen trash. An abundance of caution, perhaps, but a wise one. And fun too.

                  1. re: roundfigure

                    You always hear cautionary tales about solvent-soaked rags spontaneously combusting. I mostly didn't want my trash/kitchen to go kaboom. Usually I just leave my rags (and even paper towels) outside to air out, but I'll admit that burning the peels was more fun. And that stuff was wicked flammable, to use a Yankee descriptor. ;-)

                    1. re: ted

                      wicked pissa.

                      Did it smell great?

              1. What do you bottle in? Clear/colored glass? How do you seal the bottles? And how do you store the liqueur after straining?

                6 Replies
                1. re: tinnywatty

                  I was just planning to use an empty bottle from something else (with a cork closure). The main challenge is that it ideally wouldn't be silk screened, but that could be hard to find.

                  1. re: ted

                    That makes sense. I'm looking at swing-top bottles online but I was hoping to find something tinted to reduce UV, and they're pretty hard to find. I might just have to browse a thrift shop.

                    1. re: tinnywatty

                      Here's a site that has clear, amber, and cobalt swing-top bottles. http://www.freundcontainer.com/ppc-be...

                      1. re: DanW

                        Neat. Too bad they're only sold by the case- I'd have to be making a lot of infusions! I have found a couple of nice bottles at thrift stores so far.

                        1. re: tinnywatty

                          Track down some Grolsch beer. Nice bottles, and guess what, they come full of BEER.

                  2. re: tinnywatty

                    I just use nice old used booze bottles and keep them in a dark place.

                  3. I love making on the rocks margaritas so I figured I'd give this a try. I put the peels from about 2 navel oranges and a couple strips of lemon peel in a bottle of Gordon's vodka and they have been infusing for about 72 hours.

                    I just gave it a taste and tried mixing in some sugar syrup to get the taste right. It's pretty good for triple sec but I tried it alongside Cointreau and I preferred the Cointreau. Any tips for getting the taste closer to the Cointreau flavor? Should I just let it infuse longer? should I maybe have used tangerine peels? would it hurt to get some tangerine peels and add it to my mixture at this point?

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: yossarian22

                      Navel's have some of the least fragrant zest of ANY citrus which could explain your lackluster results. Not giving you a hard time, but I don't think it would be worth the effort with navels. Their zest has no, well ZEST!

                      Any of the following will give you MUCH more interesting infusion:

                      - Tangerine, mandarin, tangelo, juicing orange, clementine, Satsuma, Sumo, Pomelo, Cocktail grapefruit.

                      Also not a huge fan of plain grapefruit infusion, though it is good and interesting, it is not the correct flavor profile if you want a Cointreau-like libation.

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        Actually that's just what I wanted to hear. I really wasn't sure about the Navel's.. I stopped at the store tonight and picked up some Tangerines and tangelos and I replaced about half the orange peels with those peels.

                        I'll let it infuse for a day or two and then report back.

                        Also do you think it makes much of a difference sweetening it with plain sugar versus sugar syrup? Just wondering if I should go through the trouble of making sugar syrup just for this.

                        1. re: yossarian22

                          No diff at all in sugar vs. simple syrup except that with simple syrup you don't have to worry about it dissolving. Keeping simple syrup around is a cocktail nerd thing. I am sure if you give it a good shake the sugar should dissolve on it's own. Let us know how the improved batch turns out.

                          1. re: StriperGuy

                            So I tried the new version and I think it is actually now even farther from the taste of Cointreau. Cointreau has a sweet richness that hits the back of your throat with nice candied orange flavors. I spent about an hour experimenting with all sorts of sugar/syrup combinations with my mixture and I just couldn't get that flavor.. Mine has sort of a bitter, acidic flavor, closer to an orange juice flavor rather than that nice fat candy flavor.

                            I'm thinking maybe I'll try again and this time start with tangerine and clementine peels and I'll let it infuse for 3-4 weeks and see if it brings out some of those candy flavors.

                            Any ideas?

                            1. re: yossarian22

                              I like the fresher juicy taste...

                              But whoops, I forgot to mention. If you want some more of the orange candy flavor you have to DRY some orange peel.

                              This works with any of the above mentioned (again stay away from navel).

                              You can let them dry naturally, or do it in an oven or toaster on VERY low.

                              That will give you that richeness.

                              I actually often blend that made with dried and fresh zest for the most complex flava of all. Sorry I did not mention the dried peel suggestion earlier...

                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                The co-op grocery near where I live also sells bulk orange peel, for what it's worth.

                    2. Just added the simple syrup to my concoctions I've had sitting around for about a month and a half (one with Sumo and tangerine peels and one with lemon). Results were good, although I'd say the lemon turned out better.

                      Thanks for the recipe, StriperGuy.

                      5 Replies
                        1. re: StriperGuy

                          I am in Iowa and have easy/inexpensive access to Everclear. Would you use 100 percent of it or would you use the mix of it with vodka?

                          1. re: hawkeyeui93

                            Use 100% everclear for sure. You'll get better extraction. You can always dilute it down later if you like.

                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                Thanks Striper and JMF .... Now, I have a project for my afternoon off!

                        2. Brief update on this project... unfortunately this stuff does not seem to age well.

                          All the batches that I have hanging around have acquired funky off tastes, and the wonderful perfumey citrus flavors are mostly gone...

                          I had this happen to one batch last year, but it had peels in the bottle that got exposed to air and I credited it to that. Wonder what you have to do to preserve the good flavors.

                          Thoughts JMF?

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: StriperGuy

                            My batch went off after a couple of months- it developed a bunch of odd floaty clouds suspended in the liquor, even though I didn't touch it or move it at all (after straining/filtration). It was just orange zest in liquor (30%abv). It no longer smells good like it used to.

                            1. re: StriperGuy

                              without preservatives or stabilizers homemade liqueurs are best used soon, or kept in the fridge or freezer. Adding citric acid helps stabilize them a lot, and/or keeping them at high proof, plus fine filtering works well too.

                              1. re: JMF


                                Next time I will do one of the above.

                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                  Hi all. Several small comments that I would like to make. (1) Try a tsp of a 25% Pot. Sorbate mixture as a preserver, I live in the Philippines, where it is 80-90F. 10 months a year. I've had some things go off that I used fresh coconut milk in, in the ref. @38F. The sorbate is no guarantee tho. The canned coconut milk stuff keeps.
                                  Anyway something to think about.
                                  (2) Try some plastic soda or beer bottles for home use, Heck I'm cheap, I give away most of the stuff I make in 500ml coke bottles. Bottles are hard to get here, for me anyway. I use them for beer, wine, and liqueurs.
                                  (3) Try extracting some powder cocoa, and add some of your orange product, just amazing. I use 1/2 cup cocoa, 2 cups Vodka, sweeten to taste, I use inverted sugar for this.

                                  1. re: JerryF

                                    Sounds good, will give it a whirl.

                                2. re: JMF

                                  I filtered mine using Muslin - I couldn't manage to get all the little pieces of zest out otherwise. I'm really hoping that counts as "fine filtering." :-) How much citric acid would one need to add?

                              2. This is essentially, if you use lemons and more syrup, the recipe for limoncello. Peels in alcohol, leave 6 weeks. Strain and filter, add syrup, leave 6 weeks. Add water to lower the ABV (limoncello tastes best around 15% ABV), bottle, leave six weeks. Refrigerate, drink.

                                I have one whole half of my counter full of infusing jars. Limoncello, taroccello (blood orange), vanilla extract (8 vanilla beans split in 750 mL vodka and left 6 months), hibiscus and lemon leaves infusing in tequila reposado, chile chilhuacle and avocado leaves steeping in a mixture of tequila reposado and sotol...

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                  this guy: http://limoncelloquest.com/ will tell you that you need to be somewhere around 30% ABV/60 proof for it to be considered limoncello (that's about what limoncellos produced in Italy hover at)

                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                    I'm curious what method you use to calculate the final abv.?

                                    I think that abv. is too low to be a limoncello. A lemon liqueur yes. Limoncello should be within 1-2% abv of 30% abv.

                                    1. re: JMF

                                      I'm thinking that Ubergeek ran the conversion backwards...or twice.

                                      Math mistake, I hope! Limoncello with only 15% alcohol would freeze solid in the freezer.

                                      The Limoncello Quest site also has calculators to figure ABV and the freeze point of your desired concoction.

                                  2. I just tried this (I hadn't read the comment about not using Navel oranges, ha). Here's what I did.

                                    I used whole tangerine peels (boiled for a minute to ensure the pith wasn't bitter) and the zest from navel oranges. I infused for 2 days.

                                    Once done, I had a bitch of a time trying to strain. My strainer wasn't getting all the tiny zest pieces, and the internet told me I could use coffee filters, but that was incredibly slow, tedious, and proved to be ineffective as an alternative to cheesecloth. I found that Muslin was a good, cheap alternative, so I went to the store and bought a yard of cheap, unbleached Muslin and washed it per the instructions. I then strained my concoction and got this perfectly clear and BEAUTIFUL liquor. When I looked at the Muslin, not only did it catch the tiny bits of zest, but the part where the liquor strained had a mushy scum (it wasn't from the fabric being wet, it was something being strained from the liquor, and that might be what help make it go bad).

                                    I think added a tad bit of agave in place of sugar, but it just wasn't giving me the depth of flavor I wanted, so I added a little bit of brown sugar for the molasses-y flavor. Adding the agave did give me a little bit of floating clouds, but I'm ok with that (it's minimal, and you only notice standing above the bowl).

                                    I ended up with about 75% of the full liter I started with (I'm sure some ended up soaked into peels, some soaked into coffee filters), I just wished I realized it was going to be that drastic a difference the in the amounts. :-/ I'm going to look into getting some citric acid at my local Co-Op (they also sell dried peel), and adding a bit to extend the life of my bottle (but hopefully not enough to change the taste of the liquor).

                                    1. You're hilarious - love your post! Thank you! : )

                                      1 Reply