Serious Eats: Drinks
DIY vs. Buy: How to Make Melon Liqueur
The Midori Sour is a drink that confuses me. You take a sweet, syrupy liqueur and then add sugar syrup and a little citrus to it. This sticky green cocktail (along with Kim Kardashian's Midori billboards) has made it hard for me to truly appreciate how fantastic melon liqueur is.
Melons have more concentrated sweetness than other fruits and a distinct funky undertone that really pairs well with alcohol. A good melon liqueur can turn basic club soda into a sophisticated summer cooler or add another layer to a complex tiki drink.
What's Available to Buy
Midori is the most well known melon liqueur. And, despite my aversion to Kim Kardashian and the sugary cocktails this liqueur often used in, Midori adds a lovely melon flavor to a drink when used in moderation. (When used in excess, it can taste like cough syrup.) Bols, DeKuyper, and Potter's all have melon liqueurs as well (and they're cheaper than Midori, though I haven't had very good experiences with Potter's). There are a few other brands of melon liqueur as well, such as Jade and VOK, though I've never seen either in a liquor store.
Homemade melon liqueur captures the sweet and unusual flavors of the fruit, and then uses sugar and liquor to accentuate them rather than cover them up. In general, controlling how much sugar goes into your liqueur is a big reason to make your own. But this is even more of a motivation with melon liqueur, since the commercial varieties tend to be more syrupy than other types of liqueur.
When you make your own, you can also skip the unnecessary additives. Food coloring seems to be very important to the manufacturers of melon liqueur. I'm not sure if it's to cover up the unappetizing natural color or if it's some kind of secret alliance with the St. Patrick's Day Industrial Complex, but all commercial melon liqueurs seem to be green, even though only a few of them are made from a melon that's actually green.
Midori uses a Japanese melon from the cantaloupe family, while Bols uses honeydew. I wasn't sure which type of melon would be best in a homemade liqueur so I tried them both. I expected honeydew to win, since the fresh honeydew melon I bought seemed more ripe and flavorful than the cantaloupe. But cantaloupe made a far superior homemade liqueur. The juicy freshness of the honeydew almost completely disappeared in the infusion, leaving only a faint rind flavor. Meanwhile, good old cantaloupe gave its natural flavor like a champ and blended well with the vodka and sugar. I've provided a simple recipe here, but a hint of mint or some lemon zest could really add a new dimension to this liqueur. You could even add some food coloring if you're a green-drinks loyalist.
Get the Recipe
You can swap your homemade melon liqueur in for Midori in any recipe; just keep in mind that you will have to adjust the proportion a bit to taste since it's not as sweet. Mix DIY melon liqueur with shochu or sake and a twist of lemon for a light cocktail, or try splashing it in some sparkling wine or club soda with a twist. And since cantaloupe and mint are basically best friends, you should use your homemade liqueur to make a melon Mojito.
In the heat of summer, I like to give this Key Lime Granita a melon twist by reducing the amount of vodka and sugar then subbing in some DIY melon liqueur. It's better than air conditioning and much tastier.
About the Author: Marcia Simmons is the co-author of DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks. She also shares cocktail recipes and tips on the DIY Cocktails blog and on Twitter @DIYCocktails.