Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur is a modern product with an exotic heritage. Oranges
today are commonplace, but they were once among the rarest and most highly
prized of culinary treats. During his march across Europe, the Emperor Napoléon
learned that a chemist in Belgium was making a liqueur from mandarins, which at
the time were an exotic ingredient not available outside Sicily or Northern
Africa. He requested that the liqueur be blended with is personal Cognac.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have much time to enjoy it, since the first shipment
was delivered while he was on his way to Waterloo. Today, that liqueur is known
as Mandarine Napoléon.
Blood oranges, a natural mutation of the sweet orange, have always occupied a special place in the world of citrus. While they may have first appeared on the scene in Asia, they migrated to the Mediterranean shortly afterward, and today are the primary variety of orange grown in Italy. Connoisseurs and botanists alike will tell you that Sicily has the best climate for growing citrus, and that the island is the source for the finest blood oranges.
The Sanguinello is considered by many to be the most distinctive of the blood orange cultivars. Originally found in Spain in 1929, it is now grown throughout Sicily. It is a small orange with a seductive perfume, deep crimson flesh, a perfect acid balance, and deep pink juice with overtones of raspberry. Given all that, it’s surprising that no one thought of turning it into a mass-market liqueur until recently.
Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur ($35) launched in 2010. It is made from oranges grown on Mount Etna and processed at the Agrumeria Coroleone, where five generations of the Coroleone family (no relation, presumably) have extracted essential oils from citrus. It is blended with neutral spirit, Italian lemon and natural sugar, and produced by master distiller Lesley Gracie, best known for Hendrick’s Gin.
When you pour Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, the first thing you notice is that it’s clear and colorless---which is a bit disorienting, since it’s packaged in a scarlet-tinted glass bottle. The nose is redolent with rich, tart citrus and enough acidity to make your mouth water. Tasted neat, the liqueur offers sweetness on entry, followed by intense orange flavors in the mid palate; the sugary texture comes back full force on the finish. While not particularly complex, the flavor profile is charming.
Of course, few people are going to drink Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur neat. The very nature of the spirit lends itself to designer cocktails, and intricate ones at that. There were a few interesting recipes on the website (reproduced below), but I decided to experiment. After a few tries, a 4:1 proportion of vodka to Solerno, embellished with Regan’s Orange Bitters, made a very appealing Martini.
2 oz. of your favorite vodka
.5 oz. Solerno
3-4 dashes of Regan’s Orange Bitters
Place ingredients in a shaker with ice; shake vigorously, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with an orange zest.
2 parts Hudson Manhattan Rye
.75 part Solerno
.5 part Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir ingredients over ice until well chilled and properly diluted. Strain into a martini/coupe glass and garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry, tucked into and speared onto a fresh orange twist.
SOLERNO CELEBRATION PUNCH
Having a party? Here’s a recipe that serves 25:
1 bottle Solerno
1 bottle Lillet Rouge
1 bottle dry sparkling wine
16 oz. freshly brewed, strong, chai-spiced black tea (no cream or sugar added)
8 oz. Fever Tree Ginger Beer
8 oz. fresh lemon juice
16 dashes Angostura bitters
Chill ingredients first, then build in a punch bowl over a large block of ice. Garnish with thinly sliced orange wheels; garnish individual punch glasses with a cinnamon stick and a small wedge of orange.