If there’s one drink that perfectly embodies summertime in America, it’s good ol’ fashioned, homemade lemonade! The simple, timeless combination of lemon juice, sugar, and water creates the ultimate refreshing beverage during these dog days of summer. Pretty much every recipe out there will tell you to juice some lemons, add sugar and water, stir well – and voila! Lemonade. The really smart recipes will instruct you to first make a quick simple syrup, which is a big improvement. But I have an upgrade that will make for the best damn lemonade you’ve ever tasted – and you still only need those three simple ingredients: lemons, sugar, and water!
Citrus oils > citrus juice
It all starts with our lemons. Specifically, their peels. We’re going to put those bad boys to good use, and using our cocktail-loving knowledge of the power of citrus oils, we’ll create an incredibly easy (though intimidating-sounding) syrup called oleo saccharum. Oleo saccharum is just a fancy way of saying ‘citrus oil sugar syrup’. All you have to do is round up some washed, organic lemon peels, toss them with regular white sugar, and let the mix sit for a while. The sugar magically draws out the oils in the peels, leaving you with a pool of ultra-citrusy sugar oil in the bottom of your bowl. You can then combine that liquid gold with some water for an easy-to-use, phenomenally delicious syrup that will make your lemonade far more enticing than lemon juice alone.
This concept is nothing new, and it’s actually a cornerstone of many classic punch recipes. But for some reason, the beauty of intense, lemony oleo saccharum isn’t often used for lemonade. Granted, it does take a while longer to make, but the cost and effort are virtually the same as traditional recipes, and you’ll be amazed with the end result. Seriously, you could charge at least double for this stuff at a lemonade stand.
The instructions below outline the ratio I’ve used for making oleo saccharum – 1:1:1. This means that you want to mix equal parts lemon peels and sugar with an equal measure of water. So that’s why I’ve written “approximately” a couple of times. It’s ok if you have more than 5 oz of lemon peels, as long as your measure of sugar and water are the same. That part of the recipe is just a starting point. You can store any leftover oleo saccharum in a jar in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks.
Once you’ve made the oleo, the actual lemonade recipe is just: 1 cup of lemon juice, 1 cup of oleo saccharum syrup, and 6 cups of water. Feel free to add more water if you like a more watered-down drink, or maybe less if you like it more intense. Remember that when you serve it over ice, it will continue to dilute. Lemonade is fun to make because you can easily adjust it to your own taste, so feel free to do the same with this one. Some folks like it sweet, some like it sour, and that’s ok! What matters here is the quality and intensity of lemon flavor you’ll achieve by using citrus oil syrup instead of just sugar or simple syrup. Just make sure you use organic lemons since you’ll be using the peels. Pesticides aren’t a great lemonade additive!
Now that you’ve got some superior lemonade, you should probably think about what spirit you’re going to mix with it. It doesn’t get any easier than a couple of ounces of gin, vodka, whiskey, or rum (or cognac, or cachaca, or aquavit!) + ice + freshly made lemonade. But the best part is that everyone can love this recipe – even the kids or that pregnant friend who’s reallllly tired of drinking boring water all day.
The Best Lemonade Ever. Seriously.
Approximately 11 organic lemons (enough for 5 oz of lemon peels and 1 cup of juice + more for garnishing)
5 oz white sugar (approximately ¾ cup)
5 oz + 6 cups cold water
Create the oleo saccharum syrup by peeling the lemons with a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife and tossing them with the sugar in a medium sized mixing bowl. Cover and let sit for a couple of hours. Once nearly all of the sugar has dissolved into a liquid in the bottom of the bowl, add 5 oz of water and stir to remove any undissolved sugar from the peels. Strain out the peels, reserving the syrup. Note: The exact measurements don’t matter for creating oleo saccharum. Simply combine equal parts (by weight is best, if possible) lemon peels and sugar, and then water, once the sugar has extracted the oils from the peels. For this recipe, I’ve used 5 oz / 150 ml, which produced just over 1 cup of final product.
Juice the peeled lemons until you have 1 cup of juice (how many lemons this takes will vary).
Add the lemon juice, 1 cup of the oleo saccharum syrup, and 6 cups of cold water to a large pitcher and stir well. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to a week.
Serve over ice, for a traditional take, or over ice with 1.5 – 2 oz of your spirit of choice for a boozy lemonade. Lemonade is wonderful with clear spirits, but I highly recommend trying it with cognac, rum, or whiskey! Garnish with lemon wheels, mint, and edible flowers, if desired.