Homemade liqueurs

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Years and years (and years!) ago, when I was just starting out as a wife and mom, coming up with Christmas gift ideas was an annual time of pure angst. Not only was it hard to find the time and energy involved thinking of gifts and then going out to find them, but the cost! What a nightmare that can be, right?  That is when I started thinking of different things I could make, and then mass-produce them for everyone. Everybody got the same thing and there was no complaining (or my worrying) that one person got something better than the other. What a relief it was! Over the years I made all kinds of different things but for several years there was an especially popular one. I call it The Age of Liqueurs. What a hit!

I found recipes for several different liqueurs and each year I made a different one. Some recipes are ready immediately and others require anywhere from a few days to a few months to be ready for consumption. I am going to give you all of the recipes and you can decide which works best for you.

I made all the liqueurs in large jars, and bottled each gift in a small 5-ounce bottle with a ribbon on it. I would give them the recipe just in case they wanted to start making it themselves. If time was short and the recipe wouldn't be ready by the time it was given, I would put a little note on the label that read, "To be consumed after (insert date)." There was one year I made vinegar that needed at least 30 days and gave it to them a day or two after I made it. And then there was that other year I decided to make limoncello, which requires at least 4-6 months to be ready. That was fun because they could start using it during the summer when lemons are in season and there are so many recipes that it worked well with!

The advantage of making these liqueurs is you can do so in a very short amount of time. After you decide which one you want to make, you buy the ingredients and spend an afternoon putting it all together. After the liqueur is ready to bottle, it takes maybe a couple more hours to bottle and label. Think about how many hours you spend going from one store to another, hunting and gathering for all the gifts then coming home to wrap them. Once you start making your own, you, too, will be experiencing the holidays with a little less stress!

Containers: I buy all my containers, no matter what they're for, at www.sks-bottling.com. They have a terrific inventory and I find the quality and prices are very reasonable.

This first recipe is a sentimental one for me. My husband loves Kahlua and says he likes this better than the one you can buy from Mexico. Well, he IS my husband so maybe he's a little biased! But my mom loved this recipe. I used to make it for her and she would horde it in the cupboard and bring it out only when she didn't have to share it! A nice memory.

3 cups sugar
2 cups water
6 Tbsp. instant coffee *Note
1/2 cup water
3 1/3  cups vodka
2 Tbsp. vanilla

Make simple syrup, bring to boil, boiling for 20 minutes. At same time mix coffee with 1/2 cup water and bring to boil. Allow both to cool. In 1/2 gallon container add vodka and all other ingredients. Can be consumed immediately.

*Note: I used Medaglia D'Oro Instant Espresso Coffee that gives it a richer, bolder taste.

This is another Kahlua recipe that is made with a vanilla bean and requires 3-5 weeks before consumption. It is a little richer tasting because of the vanilla bean and the increased amount of coffee.

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
¼ cup coffee
1 fifth vodka
1 vanilla bean

Slowly simmer water and sugar for 20 minutes. Add coffee and cool completely. Add vodka and vanilla bean. Pour into dark container and let stand for 3-5 weeks before using.

Amaretto is always a big hit with my lady friends!

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
3 dried apricot halves
1 Tbsp. almond extract
1 cup vodka
1 cup brandy
2+ drops yellow food coloring
4 drops red food coloring
2  drops blue food coloring
1 Tbsp. glycerin *Notes

Make a simple syrup with sugar and water. Allow to cool. Add cooled syrup and all other ingredients (minus the food coloring and glycerin) to glass jar. Allow to age for 3-4 days and remove solids from liquids. Pour liquid into clean glass container. Squeeze juice out of apricots and add juice to the liquids. Add food coloring and glycerin. You can age it longer (if you can stand it) and it will make it that much more yummy. 

*Notes: glycerin can be found at most health food stores. It is sometimes sold as 'vegetable glycerin.'

Creme de Cacao
When I met my husband, he would always order an after-dinner drink called a King Alfonse. He used to see the big-wigs order it when he worked as a server in a Downtown Phoenix resort and thought they seemed so sophisticated and cool when they did. The problem is whenever he orders it, our server has no idea what it is, and neither does the bartender! But he perseveres (40 years later) and just knows someday, one of the servers is going to recognize it! In the meantime, he orders a Creme de Cacao with cream, on the rocks. It should taste the same, but I know he thinks it misses a little something!

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup  water
1 cup un-sweetened liquid chocolate (recipe below)
1 1/2 cups  vodka
2 tsp .vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. glycerin

Make a simple syrup with sugar and water; allow to cool. Combine simple syrup and vodka in large bowl. Slowly add chocolate syrup, whisking to combine. Add vanilla extract and stir.  Do not add glycerin yet. Place in large storage container (I used several mason jars) on shelf or in refrigerator. Age for 30 days and strain for clarity. Add glycerin and bottle as desired.

Unsweetened Chocolate Syrup
This is a basic chocolate syrup recipe but without the sugar and vanilla.

1 cup sifted unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
1 cup water

Place cocoa powder in 2-quart pot. Gradually add water, whisking to blend thoroughly. Set over medium heat; stir frequently with whisk until mixture comes to a boil (there may be a layer of foam on top-that's okay). Boil three minutes, whisking, and reducing heat if syrup threatens to boil over. Remove from heat; pour into heatproof liquid measuring cup or pitcher of at least three-cup capacity. Cool completely. Can be refrigerated, covered, for later use.

Irish Cream Liqueur
Who doesn't like a little Bailey's Irish Cream after dinner? It can be dessert or it can be WITH dessert! Now you can make your own anytime you want. And, yes, it's a big hit as a gift for all my lady friends!

1 3/4 cups liquor such as Irish Whiskey, brandy, rum, bourbon, scotch or rye whiskey (whatever your preference is)
1 14 ounce can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
1  cup whipping cream
4 eggs
2 Tbsp. chocolate syrup (any brand is fine)
2 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract

In blender, at low speed, blend eggs until fully incorporated. Add remaining ingredients; blend until smooth. Serve at once, if desired. Store, tightly covered, in refrigerator up to one month. Stir before serving. When you are making this as a gift, be sure to state on the label that it needs to be refrigerated and that it is good for up to one month or maybe write an expiration date.

Cherry Liqueur
Cherry Liqueur takes about 2-3 months to set up, but would be good to have for the summer months since that's when cherries are in season. I have a friend who makes this every summer and lets it sit for 6 months and then gives it as gifts over the holidays. You can just imagine how popular he is!

3 cups  vodka
1  cup brandy
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2  lb. sweet cherries, pitted, stems removed

Mix sugar and liquor together until sugar is completely dissolved. Pour into an aging container with a tight lid (I use mason jars). Wash cherries and remove any stems. Put a cut or two into the cherries and add to aging container; close tightly. Shake well every couple days and age for 2-3 months at least or up to 6 months. After it's been aged, strain liqueur thru a colander over a large bowl. Remove cherries from colander, place in bowl.  Line colander with cheesecloth and place over bowl containing strained liqueur.  Put reserved cherries in colander and push on cherries with the back of a wooden spoon to extract as much of the juice you can. Discard cherries. Re-bottle in large container or smaller bottles to be given as gifts.

Limoncello - another good recipe you can make during the summer months, age, and then bottle up for gifts during the holidays. I am giving you two recipes; one that can be ready in a couple weeks and another one that ages for several months. The quick one can still be made for this holiday. Or you can make the longer one, giving it now with a little note that says, 'A gift for the one who understands Good Things Are Worth Waiting For' and supply the date when they can consume it, sometime in the spring or summer when lemons are in season.

10 lemons, zested
1 liter vodka
3 cups sugar
4 cups water

- Zest lemon, making sure you do not have any of the pith (the white part under the yellow) in it. The pith causes the end result to be very bitter. Place zest in large glass bottle or jar. Pour in vodka. Cover loosely (I use a square of cheesecloth, secured with a rubber band) and let infuse for one week at room temperature.
- After one week, combine sugar and water in medium saucepan. Bring to boil. DO NOT STIR. Boil for 15 minutes, making sure it doesn't boil over. Allow syrup to cool to room temperature.
- Stir vodka mixture into syrup. Strain into glass bottle or jar, seal and let mixture age for 2 weeks at room temperature.
- After two weeks, place liqueur into freezer. When icy cold, serve in chilled vodka glasses or shot glasses. Can be stored in individual bottles for gifts; store in freezer. When labeling the gifts, advise them to store it in freezer for best taste result. This can also be served over ice cream or any other dessert. Yummy!

Limoncello-Slow and Easy
15 lemons (yellow ones that are not tinted with green)
2 (750 ml) bottles 100-proof vodka or 1 (750 ml) bottle of Everclear (190-proof) alcohol
4 cups sugar
5 cups water

- Carefully zest lemons with zester or vegetable peeper so there is not white pith on the peel. The pith causes the liqueur to be very bitter.
- In large glass jar (1-gallon with a lid) add vodka or Everclear alcohol. Add lemon zest as it is zested.
- Cover jar and let sit at room temperature for at least 10 days and up to 40 days in a cool, dark place.
- The longer the mixture rests, the better the end taste will be. There is no need to stir. The longer it rests, the more the vodka takes on the flavor of the lemons and turns a rich yellow color of the lemon zest.
- After the initial aging time, in large saucepan, combine sugar and water; bring to gentle boil and let boil, approximately 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and let the syrup cool before adding it to the Limoncello mixture.
- Add cooled syrup to aged Limoncello mixture. Cover jar and allow to rest for another 10-40 days. Again, the longer the better.
- After second aging period, strain limoncello through a cheesecloth lined colander, pushing the liquids through with the back of a wooden spoon. Discard lemon zest. Pour strained Limoncello in bottle or bottles and seal tightly. Keep in freezer since it's best served ice cold.