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Lessons in cello making

When I was a kid, my brother ordered a home brewing kit to make his own beer from the confines of his bedroom. I’m not sure if he was of legal drinking age when he bought the kit, but it seems within the realm of possibilities. I remember coming home from school to find him concocting some sort of raspberry ale using proper types of hops and barley, or figuring out how to make a sanitary space in our basement for batching a pony keg without angering Dad.

Despite the lack of scientific educations and vocations in my immediate family, in regard to alcohol, a driving sense of experimentation and discovery runs within us. For my brother it was beer; for me, it’s cello liqueur.

You may not have realized this (I didn’t for a while), but limoncello is not the only cello out there. The variety of cello flavor combinations is astounding - everything from passionfruit to lemongrass to lavender. A cello liqueur, simply defined, consists of alcohol, sugar, and fruit and/or other nonalcoholic flavorings.

It has been a crazy year, but after a few successful batches (Key Lime, anyone?) and a greater number of failures (Blueberry/Basil? Don’t say I didn’t warn you) I can safely say it’s an easy hobby to start. At the same time, making a great cello requires patience.

I’m certainly not an expert, but it has become an addictive hobby for me.

A year ago, I badgered a colleague, who's probably more of a mixology geek than I am, for her input on how to get started on cello making. She didn’t tell me all of her secrets, but she did give me a few useful tips.

The first is to use a high alcohol spirit. Often, online DIY cello-making instructions call for vodkas with moderate (for a vodka) alcohol content, usually around 100 proof or 50 percent abv. A superior alternative is grain alcohol, like Diesel or Everclear, which is 190 proof or 95 percent abv. The basic rule is that the higher the alcohol content, the easier it is for the spirit to pull the tastes of fruits and other non-alcoholic flavorings into the finished liqueur. And since we live in a state where the sale of grain alcohol is allowed, we might as well take advantage.

The second rule involves giving the cello proper amounts of time to age. For my first six batches, I steeped my concoctions for three months, filtered out the fruit and sediment, mixed it with simple syrup, and let it sit for another three months. (I’ll go through a basic recipe at the end.)

The third tip is to be careful with fruit pits and seeds. If a batch contains too many pits, a precursor to arsenic can react with the alcohol, and, subsequently, the batch will be poisonous. Realistically, it requires a colossal number of pits to actually create a toxic potion; still, don’t go crazy with them.

To close, I’ll take you through a quick and dirty recipe for making Limoncello:

First, the equipment. You will need a container large enough to contain a liter of fluid; I use Ball mason jars, because you can get a palate of 12 for about 3 dollars. You’ll also need bottles to keep the finished product. The rest of the equipment consists of standard kitchen supplies: coffee filters, a peeler or microplane, a stovetop, one small stockpot, and fluid measuring cups .

To start, use a peeler to remove the yellow rinds from about a pound of fresh, washed lemons. Be careful to avoid white pith; if the pith is left in the alcohol, the resulting cello will be bitter. Sterilize your liter container (I use the sanitize cycle on my dishwasher) and place the rinds inside. Pour a bottle (750 ml) of grain alcohol over the rinds and seal. Be sure the seal is airtight. Let the rinds and alcohol sit for at least three months.

After three months, strain the rinds out of the alcohol and filter the alcohol through coffee filters to eliminate any remaining particles. Measure the remaining alcohol and multiply by two (Ex. 750ml * 2 = 1.5 liters); make a batch of simple syrup equal to the number you just calculated (1.5 liters). The simple syrup not only sweetens the alcohol, but also lowers the abv to about 30 percent. The resulting cello will be much more potable. Bottle the cello and allow it to sit for another three months. When the mixture is allowed to sit, the alcohol and sugar marry, eventually creating a smoother taste.

And that’s it; you made your first cello.

Since one bottle of grain alcohol yields about three bottles of cello, I like to give away excess as holiday and birthday gifts. Feel free to gift right after bottling, but let recipients know that they should let the bottle sit for a few months before enjoying.

When the Limoncello is ready, stick the bottle in the refrigerator to chill and enjoy without ice in a small cordial glass, perhaps after a long dinner party, or during a Netflix marathon.

This article was submitted by writer and cello aficianado Chuck Williams. E-mail comments to [email protected]