Part 6 of the Series on
DIY Holiday Gift Giving from the Kitchen
The word “liqueur” derives from the Latin word “liquifacere” which means to melt or dissolve—the flavorings used to make liqueurs are dissolved in an alcohol and simple sugar syrup. Liqueurs are distinct from eaux-de-vie, fruit brandy, and flavor infused liquors, which contain no added sugar.
You can learn to make industry quality liqueur & cordials at home. You won’t believe how easy it is. The Billion dollar liquor industry would rather you not know about liqueur production, for if you knew, sales might just be a little different. Is it legal? You bet. And your friends will love you for the gift of these special liqueurs.
The aging times here are a minimum. The longer you can keep them stashed without opening, the better the final product will be. When first made, there is a raw bite to your liqueur, but as it ages you will find that the flavor is smoother by the week.
Straining materials out of the alcohol is a time-consuming process. Be patient, use lots of cloth wrung out in cold water for the first few runs (increasing the number of layers each time) and finish off with wetted down disposable (or gold) coffee strainers. Let gravity do the work, and keep the bottles covered to keep the alcohol from evaporating while waiting.
If you use honey, you’ll notice a tendency for the drinks to throw a deposit. It’s harmless, but if you plan on presenting the bottle, you might want to decant. I do, and then sample the dregs. Quality control, you know.
Most liqueurs range between 15% and 55% alcohol by volume. Liqueurs fall under roughly three different categories, Berry & Fruit Liqueurs, Cream Liqueurs, and Herbal Liqueurs. Today we will stick to the herbal liqueurs. Because they are considered herbs and spices, coffee, chocolate, flower, and nut flavored liqueurs also fall under this category.
Herbal liqueurs encompass a large category and include many varied offerings for the DIY liqueur aficionado. The exact recipes of many herbal liqueurs (which may contain up to 50 or more different herbs) are often closely guarded trade secrets. In addition, these formulations can be a time-consuming literal scientific experience, not targeted for the faint-of-heart. I admit I have yet to try myself such liqueurs as Galliano or Benedictine!
Examples of herbs and spices used frequently in liqueurs are Aloe, Agave, Angelica, Anise, Betel leaf, Caraway seed, Cardamom, Cinchona (Quinine bark), Cinnamon, Cumin, Fennel, Gentian, Ginger, Ginseng, Green tea, Lemongrass, Mint, Myrrh, Rhubarb, Saffron, Sandalwood, and Tobacco.
Chocolate liqueurs are of three general kinds: Liqueur, Cream Liqueur (which has a dairy component), and Crème de Cacao.
Important note: If you get a crust at the top of your bottles while they are aging, that crust is called “bloom”. It happens in tempered chocolate if the temperature of chocolate rises too far via cooking or sits too long at a temperature of above 70 degrees F. The cocoa butter will separate from the chocolate and you will get crystallized sugars and cocoa butter at the top. Chocolate’s cocoa butter can also crystallize or “bloom” when exposed to rapid changes in heat or humidity. Boiling chocolate is usually not a good idea because of this bloom. It leaves chocolate bitter and with an aftertaste of acidic dryness in the mouth.
Coffee beans of all roasts can be used, but the darker roasts flavor the liqueurs most intensely. As a rule, coffee liqueurs can be steeped in vodka, but tequila has also been used. Rum adds a subtly to coffee that is delicious. Flavored coffee beans additionally insert unique flavors into the coffee liqueur. Try chocolate and almond in your coffee liqueur for further depth.
Nut Flavored Liqueurs
Examples include nuts such as Acorns, Almonds, Areca nuts, Betel nuts, Hazelnuts, Macadamia nuts, Peanuts, Pine nuts, Pistachio, and Walnuts. All make delicious liqueurs. Do not use nuts that have been salted or flavored with anything. And it is best to get the dry-roasted variety as the oils tend to produce an off-flavor to your liqueurs.
Examples include flowers such as Alpine flowers, Chamomile, Cherry blossoms, Elder flower, Heather, Hibiscus, Lavender, Lotus, Rose, and Violet. The taste and smell of these liqueurs is a unique experience and one not to be missed!
The flavor of almost all liqueurs improves during storage. Fruit and berry liqueurs should be stored for at least 6 months for maximum taste. Some lemon liqueurs (e.g. Limoncello) should not be stored for a long time. Herbal liqueurs are usually matured earlier than others, so we will concentrate on these recipes for gift giving. The hardest part of making your own liqueurs is the waiting!
Homemade Liqueur Recipes
Yield: makes 3 cups
This is a very good recipe for Amaretto that I got from an old circa 1800’s Farmer’s Almanac. It is the best that I have found to date. I added the almonds to the recipe to give it more body.
1 cup water
1-1/2 cups raw cane sugar
2 cups vodka
1 cup finely chopped un-salted, roasted almonds
2 tablespoons almond extract
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Combine water and sugars in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat until the mixture is boiling and all of the sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat. Add chopped almonds. Allow the mixture cool for 10 minutes.
- Stir vodka, almond extract and vanilla extract into the mixture. Store in a sealed bottle or quart Mason jar.
- Amaretto is best if aged for at least a month. When the flavor is to your liking, strain off the solids by filtering through cheesecloth or coffee filters twice.
Famous Amaretto Liqueurs: Disaronno, Dwersteg’s Organic Amaretto Liqueur.
Yield: 1 liter
Chocolate liqueur is an alcoholic drink with a strong chocolate flavor. High-quality chocolate liqueur has a clear, light brown appearance. Most chocolate liqueurs contain vodka flavored with cacao, making them easy to replicate at home. Infusing vodka with chocolate creates a rich, syrupy liqueur with a texture similar to expensive commercial liqueurs.
1 fifth vodka
3/4 cup water
1-1/2 cups raw cane sugar
5 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-processed cacao powder
1 vanilla bean
- Wash and sterilize a large bottle with a tight seal, such as a large canning jar. Allow the bottle to dry thoroughly before adding any liquids.
- Heat water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar and stir the mixture occasionally until it is smooth.
- Reduce the heat once the mixture reaches a boil. Continue stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
- Mix the cacao with a little of the vodka to dissolve the powder. Add cacao to the syrup once it has cooled to 70 degrees and mix vigorously until it is fully dissolved.
- Slice a vanilla bean lengthwise to expose its moist interior. Place the split bean in the large jar. Pour the sugar mixture into the jar and add vodka.
- Seal the jar tightly and store it in a cool, dark place. Every two days, invert the jar several times to stir its contents. Continue stirring the chocolate liqueur mixture for two weeks.
- Place a moist coffee filter in a wire mesh strainer. Place the strainer over a large glass container. Slowly pour some of the chocolate liqueur mixture into the filter and let it strain. Change the filter when it begins to clog with sugary residue. The filtered product should be a clear, light brown liquid.
- Store the chocolate liqueur for 30 days in a cool, dark place before drinking.
Tips & Warnings:
- Drink chocolate liqueur as an after-dinner drink. Serve it straight or with a dollop of whipped cream and some chocolate shavings.
- Homemade chocolate liqueur is a strong alcoholic beverage. Drink it in small quantities to avoid rapid intoxication.
- Keep chocolate liqueur out of the reach of children, who may be attracted to its appearance and taste.
Famous Chocolate Liqueurs: Afrikoko (coconut and chocolate), Ashanti Gold, Djangoa (with a hint of anise), Godiva Dark Chocolate, Liqueur Fogg, Mozart Black (dark chocolate), Royal Mint-Chocolate Liqueur (French), Sabra liqueur (dark chocolate and Jaffa oranges).
Yield: Makes about 1.5 liters
Making homemade Kahlua gives you the flexibility to choose which coffee you would like in your coffee liqueur. Better yet, making homemade Kahlua is easy. You may even have the homemade Kahlua ingredients sitting around your house. All it takes is coffee, vodka, sugar and vanilla extract.
6 cups double-strength fresh brewed coffee
2 cups (1 pound) raw cane sugar
3-1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 liter vodka (or pure grain alcohol like Everclear)
- Bring coffee to a boil in Dutch oven or large pot. Gradually add sugar and return to boil stirring constantly. Let cool until room temperature.
- When completely cool, add the vanilla and alcohol. It is ready to serve, but will be much better if you can stand to allow it to set up for a few weeks.
- I like to fill a bottle first and put it away to age for special occasions. At 6 months of aging, you can enjoy this smooth drink neat.
Famous Coffee Liqueurs: Allen’s Coffee Brandy, Bols Coffee Liqueur, Café Aztec, Café Marakesh, Caffè Borghetti, Copa De Oro, Duchalet Café Liqueur, The Evil Monk, Galliano Ristretto, Kahlúa, De Kuyper Crème de Café, Sabroso, Tia Maria, Toussaint Coffee Liqueur.
Yield: 1 liter
The name “Drambuie” may derive from the Scottish Gaelic phrase an dram buidheach, meaning “the drink that satisfies”, or possibly an dram buidhe meaning “the yellow drink”. Drambuie is a sweet, golden colored 40% ABV (80-proof) liqueur made from malt whisky, honey, herbs, and spices. Produced in Broxburn, West Lothian, Scotland, it is served straight, on the rocks, or added to mixed drinks such as the Rusty Nail.
After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, Prince Charles Edward Stuart fled to the island of Skye. There, he was given sanctuary by Captain John MacKinnon of Clan MacKinnon. According to family legend, after staying with the captain, the prince rewarded him with this prized drink recipe.
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary (or 1 teaspoon fresh; fresh is much better)
2 teaspoons chopped dried angelica root
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 of a lemon, zest only
3 cups Scotch whiskey (real Drambuie is made with Chivas, but any palatable blend will do well)
1 cup raw unprocessed honey
- Crush or chop rosemary and fennel. Add to Scotch with lemon peel and let steep for 2 days.
- Pour the mixture through a strong, coarse filter, like a colander. Pick up the filter, with solids trapped in it, and squeeze out what liquid remains with your hands. Discard the solids. Pour the liquid through a finer filter, like a gold cup coffee filter or a moistened paper coffee filter, to remove the small solids that escaped in the first pass. Do this as many times as it takes for you to be satisfied that the liquid is reasonably free of solids.
- Add honey and shake well. This will produce foam on the top, as the beeswax in the honey is released. Skim off foam and discard.
- Decant after 2-3 weeks in bottle. Age for as long as possible (up to a year).
Yield: Approximately 1.75 liters
Rosolio is a type of Italian liqueur derived from rose petals. The liqueur is common in Piedmont and in Southern Italy. It enjoys a special popularity in Sicily, where it has been prepared since the sixteenth century and where I learned to make it. Concerti is a commercially produced brand of the liqueur from the Amalfi Coast.
This drink has a beautiful color and the scent is amazing! The taste will be like nothing you have ever had before.
2 dozen highly scented roses
1 liter neutral spirits (vodka works well and is what I always use)
1 dozen highly scented roses
3 cups raw cane sugar
2 cups water
1 stick cinnamon
1 clove bud
- Pick 2 dozen highly scented roses early in the morning, before the sun has drawn out the perfume. (Don’t pick them the day after a rain.) Separate the petals and remove the white and yellow parts from the ends, the stamen region. Wash the petals thoroughly and pat dry.
- Be sure the petals are dry, then put them into a glass half-gallon or gallon jar and pour a liter of neutral spirits over them. Cover well and put in a dark place. Stir once or twice a week for about four weeks.
- After four weeks, take another 1 dozen scented roses and remove the white and yellow parts from the petals. Wash and dry as before.
- Dissolve raw cane sugar and water in a pot with a well-fitting cover, and put the rose petals and spices into the liquid. Cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Then let simmer gently for an hour.
- Strain both the rose-petal brandy and the rose-petal syrup into a suitable jar, so that the two blend. Cover lightly for about 12 hours, then bottle. Cork well.
- Allow to infuse for 6 months to 1 year. The longer it infuses, the more subtle this liqueur will be. When you taste test it, if you notice a raw alcohol taste, allow it to infuse longer.
Download Free Printable Labels for you own bottles here: Homemade Liqueurs (labels).
Don’t miss the other articles in this series!
Part 1, Popular Herb/Spice Blend Recipes