Blood Orange Liqueur

I got the idea for making an orange liqueur when Autumn Makes posted a link on Instagram to a tasty-looking triple sec recipe from What Julia Ate. We enjoy a few cocktails that require an orange liqueur, including the Seelbach, so we thought we’d take advantage of citrus season and try it out. I happened to have picked up some blood oranges without any plans for them, and we were intrigued by the color we might get from a blood orange liqueur.

I read about 4 different recipes and synthesized them to come up with my own variation, which is closest to a recipe from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen:

  • 3-4 blood oranges (enough for 1/2 cup juice)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup neutral grain spirits
  • 1 tsp dried bitter orange peels (I keep these around for bitters recipes; I ordered them online from Dandelion Botanicals)
  • 1 dash orange blossom water
  • 2 cloves

I juiced the blood oranges and set the juice (about 1/2 cup) aside. I peeled the blood oranges with a citrus peeler (avoiding the pith) and put all the peels in a mason jar, along with the dried bitter orange peels. I heated the sugar and water in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolved, then added the blood orange juice and simmered about 5 minutes to make a blood orange syrup. Once the syrup was cool, I added it to the mason jar, then added 1 cup of alcohol, and 1 dash orange blossom water. I let this sit for about 1 month, adding 2 cloves a few days before it was done.

Blood orange liqueur in progress

The results? Really good. My first impression was it was too sweet (though it is supposed to be sweet), but it finishes very, very tart, enough so that the sweetness is offset. It also has a noticeable bitter component thanks to the bitter orange peels. So far we’ve tried it in a few cocktails: a Seelbach, a Pegu Club, and a classic Margarita. The Pegu was probably the best version of the drink I’ve ever had, I think due entirely to the fact that our orange liqueur is not as sweet as commercial versions. The margarita was also excellent, giving the drink a bright pink color (using a good reposado didn’t hurt, either) . The orange liqueur was good in the Seelbach, too, but not as noticeable because that drink is all about the bitters (we used our homemade citrus and aromatic bitters).

Homemade Pegu Club

The orange blossom water and cloves didn’t really come through. I think it could use another dash of the former, and the cloves could have been in a little longer. I’m also curious to what the result would have been had the blood orange peels been dried/baked instead of fresh.

I am interested in trying a different version closer to the What Julia Made version that involves baking the oranges and using brandy instead of neutral grain spirits (NGS). I did it the way I did mostly because I wanted to take advantage of the red juice/flesh of the blood oranges as much as possible – if it had been some other kind of orange I would have cared more about the peel than the flesh – and I used NGS because I had it handy, rather than having to buy brandy. The other thing I find intriguing about Julia’s version is adding the sugar at the end, so you have more control over the desired sweetness.

Overall, it’s really convenient that we now have homemade orange liqueur as an available ingredient, as it increases the number of cocktails we can make at home by quite a few. As always, we are comforted knowing the ingredients of something we make ourselves, and in our case it was probably cheaper to DIY instead of buy.