We have reached that time of the year when, even in Alabama, we have to accept that winter has arrived. While there are many things to celebrate during colder months, the early frosts are the hardest to embrace. So, we were excited when guest contributor Jesse Goldstein offered up a bit of a tropical concoction for this month’s cocktail post. Enjoy:
Although I hesitate to admit it, I once thought of Curaçao as the blue stuff that went into supposed “fancy” drinks. Of course, this was in my early college years back when I felt very grown up ordering Rum and Coke. What I’ve learned over the years is that Curaçao isn’t always blue, has an amazing history, and, when made properly, is worthy of even the most discerning palate.
As the name would suggest, the liqueur originated from the island of Curaçao off the northern coast of Venezuela. Spanish explorers hoped to cultivate sugarcane on the island, but it wouldn’t grow; so, they instead planted Valencia orange trees. The oranges were not a good match for the arid climate, sandy soil, and sizzling sun of the island, and the resulting fruits were so bitter that even the island’s native goats would not eat them. The entire project was abandoned, and the trees were left to grow wild. Decades later it was discovered that, though the fruit of the oranges (now called larahas by the islanders) were inedible, the peels still had immense flavor and aroma thanks to the oils contained within. By the 1830s, these peels had become one of the island’s chief exports.
Dutch colonists on the island would dry the peels of the larahas in the sun and ship them back to Holland, where distillers used them to create “Curaçao Liqueur.” The distillers would take the dried peels and spices and soak them in spirits in large jute ‘teabags’ for several days before sweetening with sugar. By mid-century, Curaçao had become one of the most popular cordials throughout Europe, simply sipped neat.
You’re probably thinking the same thing I am: It’s hard to imagine sipping on a glass of that blue stuff that’s so prevalent today. To be true Curaçao, the liqueur had to be made with the bitter (and expensive) larahas peel, and many distillers started using regular orange peel instead. Over the years, this led to the generification of the term Curaçao.
I’ll admit, when I set out to make my first batch of Curacao, I knew that getting my hands on genuine larahas peels would not be easy. So, I opted to toast the peels of easily accessible navel oranges instead, to enhance their bitterness. This step, coupled with some serious patience to let the process play out, resulted in what might just be my favorite cool-weather cocktail ingredient.
To make your own, you’ll need the following ingredients:
3 cups good-quality gold rum (Virgin Islands rum, preferably)
4 small navel oranges
⅓ teaspoon whole cloves
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 cup demerara sugar
½ cup water
Start by washing your oranges with warm soapy water. Once rinsed and patted dry, carefully peel away the outer zest portion using a vegetable peeler to avoid the pith. Heat your oven to 250 degrees. Spread the peels out on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until they dry and turn a deep brown color. Remove the peels from the oven let cool for an hour before placing in a quart jar. Using a mortar and pestle, crush the cloves and add them with the cinnamon and coriander to the jar. Add the rum and seal the jar. Place in a cool area outside of direct sunlight to steep for three weeks, shaking occasionally.
After three weeks, strain the liquid through a strainer and cheesecloth or coffee filter to remove the debris. Add the demerara sugar and water to a small saucepan and heat to melt the sugar. Once fully dissolved, transfer to the strained liquid, reseal and shake to blend. Transfer into smaller bottles, seal, and let the liqueur mature for a minimum of two weeks.
Once made, you’ll see how delicious it is. But don’t feel like you need to be traditional and sip it neat, as this stuff will liven up some cocktails as well. I’ve shared a few of my favorites.
2 ounces homemade Curaçao liqueur
1 ½ cups apple cider
Heat your apple cider and add Curaçao when ready to serve.
1 ounce homemade Curaçao liqueur
2 ounces good-quality gold rum
1 ounce freshly-squeezed orange juice
1 ounce freshly-squeezed lime juice
Fresh-grated cinnamon, for garnish
Combine rum, Curaçao, and juices in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake to chill and strain into coupe glass. Grate cinnamon over top of cocktail and serve.
BOURBON CURAÇAO COCKTAIL
2 ounces good-quality bourbon or whiskey
1 ounce homemade Curaçao liqueur
2 dashes orange bitters (I love the Orange Fig variety from Crude Bitters)
Strip of orange peel for garnish
In a cocktail mixing glass with ice, add bourbon, Curaçao and bitters. Stir to chill for 15-20 seconds and strain into rocks glass with a few ice cubes. Express the oils of the peel over glass and run it along the rim to add even more fragrance before dropping it into the glass.