ICYMI, on September 22, the season changed again, and with these first cool nights of Autumn sneaking in I’m starting to look forward to the upcoming holiday season. This year it seems a little bit less of a chore and more like a welcome old friend, stopping in to bring us some good cheer at the end of an otherwise difficult year. I’m getting excited thinking about what gifts I can make at home to really delight my friends and family this year, and I think a few bottles of homemade liqueur are just the DIY project to casually put together over the next few months. Liquid cheer at its finest!
I know. It’s not even October yet, so it seems far too early to start mentioning things like “DIY Holiday Gift Ideas”. But right now is the perfect time to plan and start making some truly joyful homemade liqueurs.
So many liqueurs capture the essence of the seasons. Starting right now with the end of summer produce and florals, and fall spices on the horizon, these liqueurs are both beautiful and dead simple to make. You too can create your own special homemade liqueur with valuable time on your side! You’ll want to make enough to enjoy for yourself, and yes, give as fantastic gifts this holiday season.
Limoncello & Basilcello
Limoncello is one of those liqueurs that seems like it would be difficult to make. One taste and you start imagining long dinners running late into the evening at a cafe just outside of the Duomo in Florence, and the special bottles with hand-painted lemons on them in artisan food shops. The truth is, a great limoncello is almost effortless to make.
The peels of 10 lemons (preferably organic, washed)
A 750ml bottle of 100 proof vodka or grain alcohol (80 proof will do)
1 cup of organic sugar + 1 cup of filtered water (simple syrup)
A non-reactive container
Easy peasy lemon squeezy
The infusion is nearly effortless to make, but you need to give it some time to sit. Peel the lemons with a vegetable peeler, making sure to avoid or remove the pith. Combine the peels and the alcohol in a container large enough to accommodate both, and let it rest in a cabinet away from direct heat and sunlight. Just don’t forget where you put it! At the very least you should plan to have it infuse for a week. For the best results, you should give it a month to really draw out the flavors of the lemon peels, and the more bright yellow it will become!
Once you’re ready to enjoy your limoncello, strain it through a coffee filter, or a few layers of cheesecloth into a clean container. Next, you’ll make that simple syrup with one cup of organic sugar and one cup of water, bringing them just to a boil, then cool before adding to the alcohol. Taste your limoncello, and add more simple syrup as desired for your preferred sweetness. Your limoncello should keep nicely refrigerated for a month after completing it. Tucked into the freezer, it will last forever — I still have a bottle of from last year’s batch.
For gifting, search out food quality bottles in beautiful shapes about 375 ml size, create a handwritten label, and tie on with a colored tie for a festive gift from your kitchen.
Meyer lemons are beginning their yearly appearance at markets, as well as mandarin oranges, Bergamot, and a variety of other seasonal citruses. Experiment with a variety to suit your tastes. Once your Limoncello (Mandarincello or other citrus choices) is ready, you can enjoy it classically, chilled in a limoncello or double shot glass, or mixed into a bright cocktail. One of my favorites is a Limoncello Spritz.
2 oz Limoncello
3 oz Prosecco (Dry)
1 oz Seltzer Water Float (Pelligrino to really keep the Italian spirit)
Fresh basil or mint leaves (or both) to garnish
For an herbal riff on the classic limoncello, try my quick and refreshing Basilcello recipe:
1 pound fresh, organic basil leaves, thoroughly rinsed (do not substitute dried basil)
750ml bottle of filtered or spring water, room temperature
750ml bottle of neutral spirit (Grain Vodka or Everclear)
3-4 Tablespoons lemon juice
1½ Litres (about 1.5 quarts) of simple syrup — equal parts sugar and water brought just to a boil, stirred, and cooled.
Combine all ingredients in a sterile glass container. Stir well and refrigerate overnight to infuse. Strain out basil leaves, and taste. Adjust sweetness and acidity to your liking. Serve in a small limoncello glass or a decorative, clear shot glass. Garnish with a basil leaf, lemon slice, or drop in a few fresh Strawberries or Blueberries. Delightful as an aperitif or digestif, your Basilcello will keep for about 10 days, refrigerated. Freezing not recommended.
Homemade Bloody Mary Mix + DIY Tomato Salt Rimmer
If you’re the kind of person who loves a spicy bloody mary at brunch (or you know someone who does), a batch of homemade bloody Mary mix with a custom-made salt rimmer is such a fun and personal gift. Come the holidays the brunch season will be over, but the chance to treat yourself at home is just as indulgent.
To really preserve the best of the season, pick up a big batch of the good tomatoes before the last of the ripe summer tomatoes are gone from the markets, and turn them into tomato salt and tomato juice. Then, you can either freeze or can the juice until you’re ready to mix up some homemade bloody Marys.
Making your bloody mix in advance not only makes it easier to stir together a drink while you scramble eggs and make toast but also allows the flavors of your mix to really combine and develop. You’ll want to drink or serve your mix within a week of making it and keep it refrigerated in a tightly-sealed bottle. With all of the ingredients in a bloody mary mix, settling is typical and a quick shake will bring it all back together nicely.
There are as many bloody Mary mix recipes in the world as there are people who drink them. If this is your first time making a bloody Mary mix at home, it’s best to start with a solid base recipe, then adjust it as you go along. For both the bloody mix and tomato skin salt recipe, I turn to the chef and owner of Prune in NYC, Gabrielle Hamilton.
Tomato Juice & Tomato Skin Salt
Grab all of the beautiful tomatoes you can (at least three pounds) and blanche them to remove the skins. Set the skins aside for tomato skin salt.
Put all of the peeled tomatoes into a large non-reactive pot (not aluminum) with a few pinches of salt and pepper to season. Mash the tomatoes as you delicately cook them on medium heat. Bring the tomatoes to a simmer and continue to cook until they’ve broken-down and liquified — about 20 minutes. Strain the juice through a food mill or by forcing through a fine-mesh strainer. Can, or cool and freeze.
With the remaining tomato skins, follow Hamilton’s simple Tomato Skin Salt recipe that will leave no part of your tomato bounty wasted. The recipient of this homemade bloody Mary mix and custom salt will undoubtedly be delighted and impressed with all of the care you put into making them. Plus that tomato skin salt will liven up your salads, sprinkled over tomato slices, onto fish…I could go on…
There’s something about a coffee liqueur cocktail that just feels comfortable. For some people, it’s the bathrobe-and-flipflops kind of comfortable, sipping a White Russian like “The Dude”. And for others, it’s a luxurious espresso martini at the end of a fantastic meal kind of comfortable. Either way, a coffee homemade liqueur is simple to make and satisfying in a variety of ways, including on its own.
Coffee homemade liqueur starts with the very best instant coffee you can find. Hard pass on the majority of the jars of instant sludge at the grocery store. Seek out an instant coffee made by a reliable smaller-scale roaster, or splurge on a jar of Mount Hagen instant coffee, widely lauded as the best instant coffee money can buy.
Coffee Homemade Liqueur
3 cups Granulated sugar
½ cup Light brown sugar
3 cups filtered Water
1 Vanilla bean
2 oz Instant coffee
1 750 ml bottle of Vodka, not super expensive (you can also use a white rum if preferred)
- Combine with water, sugars, and vanilla bean (split and scraped) in a medium-sized pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and continue to cook for 15 minutes to reduce the syrup.
- Remove from heat and add the instant coffee, stirring until completely dissolved while the syrup is still hot. Let cool to room temperature.
- Combine the coffee syrup and vodka in a large clean container and shake well to mix. Seal tightly, and place the jar in a cabinet away from heat and direct sunlight. Let sit for 10 days to 2 weeks, then strain the liqueur through a coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth. Rebottle and refrigerate for a longer shelf-life.
Sloe Gin Homemade Liqueur
A British Christmas tradition, sloe gin is a classically homemade liqueur that is much prevalent in the US. Sloe berries, which are also called blackthorn berries, are ripe for the picking right now. These berries look like a clump of concord grapes but are actually a kind of tart plum that can be unpleasantly astringent to eat straight off the plant. Typically the berries are harvested starting in late August through October, often after the first frost in the UK. The berries are soaked in gin from harvest till Christmas to make its namesake sloe gin liqueur (much like the process of making limoncello).
Claire Dodd, of The Independent, writes “If you foolishly forgot to roam your local hedgerows this autumn (what were you thinking?), and missed out on making your own, don’t fear. Though in our humble opinion, there are few things as satisfying as steeping, nurturing, and then enjoying your own homemade sloe gin…” So we’re going to take her word for it and try making our own this year.
Actually making sloe gin is very simple. The hardest part is finding sloe berries here in the States. Blackthorn bushes aren’t a native plant and haven’t been widely cultivated. Unless you have a local resource for fresh sloe berries, it’s likely that your best source will be buying dried or frozen sloe berries online. Sloe berries are hardly a gross domestic product of the UK, so you won’t find any big brands carrying them in any large retail outlets. But you can find them on Amazon occasionally, Etsy from some Euro-based distributors, and a few independent overseas retailers like YouHerbIt.com (best value for larger quantities).
Sloe Gin Recipe with Dried Sloe Berries
500 grams Dried Sloe Berries (1 pound, 2 ounces)
200 ml Hot water (just under a cup)
250 grams Caster sugar (1¼ cups, you can substitute granulated sugar, pulse it in a food processor to make it as fine as possible.)
750 ml bottle of Gin, good quality, but not expensive
- Rinse the dried berries until the water runs clear. Make sure to thoroughly clean and sterilize the jars you’ll be using to infuse your gin.
- Heat 200 ml of water to just boiling, and pour over dried sloe berries. Let the berries absorb the water for 6 hours, or overnight. Once they’ve rehydrated as much as possible, prick the skins of the berries with a paring knife or toothpick as well as you can. Keep any remaining water from the soaking process.
- Combine the berries, caster sugar, any remaining water, and all of the gin. Stir or shake to mix.
- Seal as tightly as you can, and store the container in a cabinet away from heat and direct sunlight. Shake the container every other day for the first week, and then at least once a week for the duration of the infusion. Ideally, you’ll let the mix sit for 8 to 12 weeks (just in time for some holiday cheer!)
- When you’re ready to enjoy, strain the berries out through a coffee filter or a few layers of cheesecloth. Rebottle in a sterilized clear container, and enjoy or gift.
Your first batches of homemade liqueur can easily be ready by Thanksgiving, with little effort on your part and an indulgent payoff. These liqueurs will help you celebrate straight through New Year’s, and truly impress your loved ones with your DIY kitchen prowess. Cheers to your health and happiness!
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Contributor: Stacie Hunt, Certified Silver Pin Sommelier/AIS; Vice President National Association of Wine Retailers; International Wine Judge, Author, Spokesperson, and Educator. As a television and video producer/spokesperson, she is the winner of several national and international broadcasting awards.