Liqueurs are making a big comeback!
They have a delightfully old-ladyish quality that I love (seriously, you should see my collection of vintage aprons), yet they can be totally sophisticated if made from good ingredients. And though high-quality liqueurs and flavored spirits are usually pretty spendy, they are super easy to make at home.
What you need to do first is amass a collection of jars and bottles (Ikea has growlers for really cheap, or you can just use quart Mason jars). Then think about what types of drinks you like best. Are you a flowery or fruity ladylike type? Do you prefer those dapper woody, nutty notes? Bitter, sweet, herbal; you can try your hand at a variety of flavors.
One I made recently is Meyer Limoncello. Limoncello is a lemon liqueur, and since citrus are coming up on the end of their season in the US, now is a good time to try snagging a couple pounds of lemons (I use fragrant Meyers but you can use any lemon). Fill a half-gallon jar with as much lemon peel as you can stand to remove (this is around 7 or 8 lemons). It gets old after awhile, I know. This is another reason why I like to use the Meyers—you can quarter them and toss them in whole because they’re less bitter. But if you’re going with regular lemons, try to just get mostly zest and not the bitter, white pith.
OK, now pour in a 750-mL bottle of grain alcohol like Everclear. Put the lid on tight and keep it on a shelf, shaking it every day or so for a couple weeks. After about two weeks, heat up 3 cups of water and dissolve in 3 cups of sugar. Strain the lemony booze into the pot of syrup, and then pour everything back into the jar. Put the lid back on, and put it back on the shelf for a few more weeks, shaking it whenever you think about it (once or twice a day will suffice).
Then pour it into pretty growlers or any bottles that can be sealed with rubber stoppers (clear is best so you can see the pretty yellow color). Store these in the freezer—or if you’re a saint, they make great gifts. I like to drink mine with sparkling lemonade as an afternoon spritzer or as a cocktail with Prosecco and a few muddled berries. It’s also a great thing to just bust out when you have unexpected guests. And hey, I’ll let you in on a little secret. This recipe can be used for lots of other liqueurs. I make a killer lavendercello that is a hit at summer parties, and am gearing up to try my hand at homemade Crème de Violette (or Crème Yvette, combining violets and vanilla).
If all that sounds like too much work, I’ve got just the thing: Apple Brandy. The flavors of apples (or pears) and brandy are a no-brainer together. Fill a jar with the sweetest, most flavorful apples you can find. I have a rickety old apple tree in my neighborhood that has tiny fruits, and it’s perfect, but any really fragrant heirloom variety will be gorgeous. Fill a jar with the cut apples (cored and stemmed, obvy) and pour on enough good brandy to cover them. Leave this on a shelf for a few weeks, shaking when you remember, and then strain into corkable bottles. I know it’s kind of an old-dude thing to sip brandy, but who cares? Old dudes are kind of awesome! And your friends will be impressed to have a little glass of your own homemade apple brandy while you pass around a tray of sharp cheese gougères, and everyone will think you are so cosmopolitan and sophisticated.
And you are.
Meyer Limoncello (featured)