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Jun 10, 2012 05:47 PM

My home-made orange liqueuer: What did I do wrong?

The cheap $5 triple sec I put in my margaritas seemed sort of bland, but I didn't want to drop $30+ for Cointreau. I found something called Drillaud's Orange Liqueur, for about $16. It has a lot more flavor, but even that tends to disappear fast when margarita time comes around. Thus, after reading some threads here, I decided to make my own. Here's what happened:

Oranges: a blend of peels from 1 mineola, 1 mandarin, and 2 naval oranges (that's all I could find at the store the day I went shopping.) I peeled them very carefully with a harp vegetable peers, and I was able to get peels with almost no white stuff.

Infusing alcohol: I decided I didn't want to pussyfot around, so I dropped the peels in a 1 qt mason jar with 400 ml of Everclear. As you can see for the coverage of the peels in the mason jar, I probably didn't need quite that much everclear. I let the peels infuse for a week, and the result in in the first picture:

I then strained out the peels (second picture) and disposed of the highly flammable everclear-soaked peels in the charcoal fire outside.

I did my first dilution with 250 ml of 80 proof vodka, and then I added the balance of water to bring to alcoholic content to about 100 proof. At the point I added the water, the clear very orange tinted liquid did a louche! Like some kind of weird orange absinthe. I added a cup of sugar to adjust the flavor, and the result looked and tasted like a screwdriver. Not exactly what I was aiming for. What was curious was that after aging in the mason jar for a week or so, the liqueur developed some more complex flavors, but when I make a margarita with it, it still looks like a screwdriver. I does make a pretty potent margarita, though. I tried diluting down a small subsample to 30 proof, but the result wasn't very sweet, and, for that matter, the orange flavor wasn't as strong either.

Anyway, I made a quart of stuff that was interesting, but not exactly what I was looking for. Comment and discussion are appreciated.

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  1. There are several threads circulating on making limoncello and you may want to follow the tips in those. One main tip may be adjusting expectations. You are not going to make Gran Marnier at home:) But in my experience you can make a very orangey alternative with more character than most things on the shelf. First use as fragrant a peel as you can find, and zest it with a microplane zester. Many people use Everclear, I my self am partial to a combo of 100 and 80 proof vodka.

    Another important ingredient is time. I would let the peels soak for at least 45 to 60 days. I myself do 90 days. Just set in it a cold dark place and forget it.

    1 Reply
    1. re: quazi

      Quazi is right.. The limoncello threads will offer good advice.

      Time is really important, to allow the alcohol sufficient time to really extract the essence. I usually allow mine to steep for at least two months (I also can't get everclear, so I rely on 100 pf vodka). Rather than adding plain sugar, I make a 1:1 simple syrup and use that for sweetening/dilution. You won't need to fret about complete dissolving of the sugar.

      After adding the syrup, I give everything another month (at least) to mellow out, and then serve it straight from the freezer.

      My proportions are 12 large oranges; 1.75 liters 100-pf vodka; 3 cups 1:1 simple syrup
      The result is (like yours) quite clear and "orangey", but does not taste like a screwdriver.

    2. For starters a longer aging is NOT the trick. You get no better flavor with an orange zest/peel infusion going any longer than 72 hours.

      In fact orange infusions lose their flavor and taste "off" after a few months. I recently learned this the hard way. They need to be drunk in the first few weeks, or stored in the freezer or preserved with citric acid.

      Second any citrus you get this time of year is just not that good, fruit, zest, etc. Think February not June.

      Third, a mix of dried (you can dry your own, or buy it) and fresh orange peel may give you the more complex orange taste you want.

      Finally, the color of what you made looks great to me, what exactly did you not like about the taste?

      Here is a big long thread I started on the topic:

      2 Replies
      1. re: StriperGuy

        I agree with Striper on this, specifically when working with orange. I think the one main thing that you need to change is, much more orange zest. And that's zest, not peel.

        And the citric acid is key for it to last. Orange zest and juice isn't as acidic as lemon or lime. Orange can be a bit more difficult to work with. Limes, while difficult to work with the zest, do have large amounts of citric acid in the juice. (Up to 8%) So adding the juice of 1/2 a lime to the infusion should help, but it will add cloudiness. So get some food grade citric acid. It's inexpensive and you only need tiny amounts.

        Striper's suggestion of additionally using dried peel works. The oils are there, but more complex, and the bitterness of the pith in the peel mostly disappears during the drying process. (Except with Bitter Orange, but that is a more pleasant bitterness.) But using all or some dried peel does make the infusion time longer. The peel has to soak long enough to both rehydrate the peel, and extract the flavors.

        And the freshness, oranges are at their peak season and freshness from early Fall to early Spring. Ones you get other times of year are usually from long term cold storage, or have traveled from the southern hemisphere.

        You can also use the zest of several types of oranges such as navel, mandarin, etc. for more complexity.

        When you added the 80 proof vodka you diluted the infusion too much. Just adding water would be the way to go. It's better to have a stronger concentration of flavor. 400 ml of 190 proof neutral spirit is brought down to 80 proof by adding 550 ml of water. For 100 proof just use 360 ml water.

        Here's a link to an online dilution calculator.

        1. re: JMF

          Funny, I almost said "and add much more zest."