Homemade liqueur can be seen as the ultimate in hospitality…
Although homemade liqueurs require quite a bit of patience and waiting time before you can finally have a taste, they make a wonderful addition to the dinner table.
It’s the ultimate gesture of Italian hospitality to offer guests a strong and aromatic digestivo (usually a herbal-based liqueur) at the end of the meal. As the name suggests, digestivi or digestifs are thought to aid digestion.
This fragrant liqueur is inspired by some of the herbs of the Mediterranean scrub that you can find growing rampant along the Maremman coastline: bay laurel and a hint of rosemary. Not by chance, rosmarino in Italian references the sea (marino, or marine), which it commonly grows near.
A nice addition to this liqueur would be a couple of tablespoons of mirto – berries from the myrtle plant, which are also used in the not-far-away islands of Sardinia and Corsica for traditional liqueurs. The berries’ flavor profile is sometimes likened to a mixture of rosemary and juniper (which you can also find among the Maremman scrub). Sage leaves are a nice addition, too.
Bay Leaf and Rosemary Liqueur
- 16 fresh bay leaves
- 2 rosemary sprigs
- 5 cm strip of orange peel
- 1 cup neutral spirit at 150° proof 75% alcohol
- 3½ oz sugar
- Choose a spirit that is neutral in both flavor and fragrance, and preferably perfectly clear, too. In Italy, you can easily buy 190° proof (95% alcohol) in the supermarket for the purpose of making homemade liqueurs, but this isn’t available in many other countries. Everclear is close; unflavored vodka works just fine. If using a 190° proof alcohol, you should make slightly more syrup to dilute the liqueur sufficiently – 7 fluid ounces of water and 5½ ounces of sugar. The resulting liqueur should be around 37–40% alcohol, which is as strong as you would want a drink like this!
- Add herbs and orange peel (make sure there is no white pith as it is too bitter) to the alcohol in a glass bottle or jar and leave to infuse in the fridge for 1 week, agitating once a day. You will notice it looks fluorescent green – I love this color that the liqueur draws out of the bay leaves, but unfortunately it turns darker as it ages.
- Make a simple sugar syrup by combining the sugar and 5 fl oz of water in a saucepan and bringing to the boil. Let it simmer for 10 minutes, then allow it to cool completely. Add the cooled syrup to the alcohol and herb mixture. Leave to infuse for 1 more week, then filter the alcohol through a fine sieve lined with muslin (cheesecloth).
- Pour into a glass bottle and let it age in a cool, dark place for 3–4 weeks before serving for the first time. If it is still a little cloudy, you can filter again if you wish. If you leave it cloudy, just remember to shake the bottle a little before serving. Makes 2 cups.
- Serve chilled and neat in small glasses to sip after a meal.