Sunday, January 27, 2013


Late-night liqueur by candlelight.
On these long, cold winter’s nights, what’s needed are a cozy fire, good friends and a warming liqueur. Even the name in Spanish—aguardiente, "fire water"—suggests its purpose.

Warming fire and "firewater".
Aguardiente is distilled liquor. In Spain, with its extensive vineyards and wine production, aguardiente is distilled from wine or grape pomace. In Galicia, aguardiente de orujo is a clear, dry grape brandy, somewhat like French marc or Italian grappa. It can be flavored with herbs, aniseed or coffee beans and sweetened with sugar. In Navarra, sloeberries are macerated in anise aguardiente, to produce pale ruby pacharán, a favorite digestive. Aguardiente is also the starting point for Brandy de Jerez, mellow brandy aged in Sherry casks.

The most common flavoring for aguardiente is aniseed. It is produced as both a dry liquor, often consumed diluted with water, and as a sweet liqueur.

But it is in La Mancha, the heart of Spain, with the most extensive vineyards on earth, where the greatest variety of distilled liqueurs are made. Most of them are home-brews or secret concoctions of monasteries. Such are resolí, a coffee and spice liqueur; místela, a spiced sweet wine fortified with aguardiente, and licor de trasnochá, late-night liqueur, a sweet liqueur with orange and aniseed flavors.

Orange and spice infused liqueur.

Start this liqueur now and it will be ready for Valentine’s Day. Heart-warming stuff.

Use your best cut-glass decanter to present this liqueur. It is sweet, but not insipid, and aromatic with orange and spices—a fine after-dinner drink sipped neat in snifters or tiny liqueur glasses. The liqueur can also be mixed with seltzer water and ice for a tall drink or used to concoct a Spanish cocktail.

Late-Night Liqueur
Licor de Trasnochá

Remove the orange zest with a vegetable peeler in a spiral. Trim off any of the white pith. Leave the strips of zest to dry for several days to concentrate the essential oils.

Use unflavored vodka or grappa for the alcoholic base. Once the orange-spice mixture is combined with the alcohol, the liqueur infuses for 2 weeks before being strained. Take care to use very clean utensils, jars, and bottles.

Makes 2 ½ pints.

Aromatics to flavor the liqueur.
Zest of 2 oranges
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 ½ cups water
1 tablespoon aniseed, crushed coarsely
½ tablespoon coriander seed, crushed coarsely
2 cloves
3 sprigs mint
3 sprigs fresh lemon verbena or 1 tablespoons dried
1 teaspoon orange flower water (optional)
4 cups vodka or grappa

Allow the orange zest to dry, about 4 days.

Combine the sugar with water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the orange zest, aniseed, coriander seed, and cloves. Cook gently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the mint, lemon verbena and orange flower water, if using. Allow to cool for 20 minutes.

Steep spices and herbs in alcohol with sugar.
Place the sugar syrup with orange zest and spices in a clean glass jar (divide between two jars, if necessary). Fill with the vodka. Cover tightly and leave in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks.

Strain the liqueur into a pitcher and discard the solids. Fit a coffee filter paper into a filter. Pour 1 cup of boiling water through it. Discard the water. Place the filter over a bottle or decanter and pour in the liqueur. It will filter through very slowly. Continue adding liqueur to the filter until it has all been filtered. Use 2 bottles if necessary.

Cap or stopper the bottles tightly. The liqueur is ready to drink, but can be kept in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.


  1. I just love your recipes and the blogg
    The Late-Night Liqueur looks great

    1. Tanya: Thanks. Give this liqueur a try-- it's pretty easy to make.

  2. I've made lots of these types of liqueurs. It is interesting to play around with different herbs and spices, whatever is available. Last year I made one from pomegranate seeds and juice with lemon zest and cinnamon.
    I have never included the syrup in with the spice/herb infusion step. Always doing this step just with neat vodka and then sweetening the filtered extract. That way I can make a large batch and sweeten parts of it to different extents. So I have a version for people with a sweet tooth whilst I prefer a drier version. Or in different ways - I have tried sweetening with honey as well.

    1. Merv: Thanks for your input on liqueurs. Your method--macerating the aromatics in neat vodka without sugar--sounds better than mine. Do your liqueurs keep well over a period of time (assuming they don't get drunk up)?

  3. I have found that they do keep well. My normal batch size uses 5 x 700ml bottles of vodka. Once macerated (2 weeks or so) I normally make up a litre or so of a less highly sweetened blend (which I prefer) and then more fully sweeten the balance, which I then keep in a cool place in 8 litre glass containers (the ones used for wine-making that are in black plastic over-containers) and filter in to smaller 500ml bottles as required. I think these cool, dark conditions are the best for storage, but I have found a deepening in liqueur colour over time

    1. Merv: Helpful advice, thanks. I do like your pomegranate-cinnamon combo.

  4. This is such a great idea Janet! An Italian friend of mine used to make his own limoncello, which planted a little seed in the back of my mind several years ago. He'd use food grade alcohol, which seemed intimidating and difficult to find. Using vodka or grappa is a great idea, and your instructions make it seem so easy, minus the wait time ;)... Thank you for the inspiration!

    1. Ansley: Hey, limoncello sounds like a good idea. Yes, basically very easy to make, so have a go.