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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.
        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. :)

        9 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. re: isadorasmama

              i just made this recipe, and the results were amazing. I used a bottle of Cognac that my GF bought me. i can tell you the 4wk wait does suck, but the flavor and the aroma are incredible. it smells really strong, yet is great as a sipping drink. we made mixed drinks with it, and are already thinking of making our second batch.

              1. re: resqmedec

                Do note that I have learned that this stuff sometimes doesn't keep so well. Others in this thread have suggested adding some citric acid as a preservative... gotta try that some time.

            3. 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.