What is Liqueur?
Liqueur, also called cordial, is a spirit that has been flavored with ingredients like sugar, herbs, spices or fruits. They are usually very sweet and frequently served with or as dessert. These lovely libations are descendants of herbal medicine dating all the way back to 13th century Italy.
Liquor vs Liqueur
So, what is the difference between liqueur and liquor you ask? Simply put, liquor is distilled from plants, grains or sugar with only water added and range from 40-151 proof. Liqueur, on the other hand, is a liquor with added sugar and flavors and is often a lower proof. Most liqueurs are around 15% alcohol by volume (abv) but some, like Chartreuse, can be as high as 55%. Liquor is usually a minimum of 40% abv or 80 proof. Again, liquor is generally made by distilling grain (and sometimes fruits or vegetables) through alcoholic fermentation. In this process the liquid becomes more concentrated making it higher in abv. whereas liqueur is a distilled spirit that has been diluted with additional flavorings such as sugar, fruit, spices, herbs and botanicals.
Types of Liquor (also known as Spirits)
There are generally six types of spirits: vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey and brandy. After fermentation water is reduced through distillation which increases the alcohol content by a minimum of 20 percent. Vodka, rum, tequila and brandy usually fall right at 40 percent whereas whiskey can be anywhere from 40 to 55 percent and gin roughly 40 to 50 percent. The defining qualities that separates each type of liquor is their byproduct. All spirits require fermentation, distillation and heating and are clear and colorless. The color variations found in whiskey, rum and tequila are a result of the aging process. These spirits are aged in wooden barrels. During this process polyethers are extracted from the wood giving the spirit color and flavor. The color can range from a light honey-golden brown to rich deep burnt umber.
Vodka and gin are both considered neutral spirits meaning they lack distinctive character, flavor and aroma. Gin is a type of spirit characterized by the flavor of juniper berries. The neutral spirit is infused with botanicals during the distillation process. Gin could technically be labeled as a flavored vodka but vodka cannot be gin. You can read more about the difference between vodka and gin here.
Rum is a spirit distilled from sugarcane, molasses or syrup. Light, white or silver refers to rum that is colorless and unaged. Gold or amber rum has been aged in barrels for some period of time and gives depth, color and flavor to the spirit. Black and spiced rums are aged the longest and as the name suggests, spiced rums are flavored with spices.
Tequila is made from the fermentation of the sugars from the Blue Agave plant. Tequila is generally classified in four different categories. Blanco, plata or silver tequila is aged 0-59 days. Gold or Joven (young) is usually not aged but given a golden hue by adding caramel color and flavor.
Whiskey is distilled from a grain mash typically consisting of barley, corn, rye or wheat and is usually aged in charred oak or old sherry casks. Whiskey is found in a wide variety of styles that are held to different regulations by region. Most whiskey has to be a minimum of 4o percent ABV.
Brandy is made by distilling wine and is usually 35-60 percent abv. Varieties can be found worldwide but you might recognize Cognac and Armagnac from southwestern France as the most renowned. Brandy is generally aged in oak but others can be colored with caramel coloring to give the effect of aging. Brandy is generally served as an after-dinner digestif.
Types of Liqueurs
With so many flavors out there, where do you start? Liqueurs can be enriched with a wide range of ingredients from fruity and sweet to creamy or bitter. Some categories include:
Berry - Made with any type of berry and include products like Chambord
Bitter - Often made with herbs and spices including ingredients like orange peel, rhubarb and tree bark. Campari and Suze are examples of bitter liqueurs
Floral - Spirit infused with botanicals and sugar. St Germain (elderflower liqueur) and créme de violette are a few examples.
Fruit - Infused with fruit or fruit juice and include products like Hpnotiq.
Chocolate - Infused with real chocolate, white chocolate or chocolate flavoring and include things like Godiva Chocolate Liqueur and créme de cacao.
Créme - Not to be confused with cream which contain dairy. Créme liqueurs have such a high amount of sugar added they have an almost syrupy quality. Examples of these include créme de cassis (black currant) and créme de menthe (mint).
Coffee - Infused with coffee, espresso, grounds or coffee flavoring and include popular brands like Kahula and Tia Maria.
Cream - These are liqueurs that contain dairy. Some favored products include RumChata and Baileys Irish Cream.
Herbal - Infused with herbs and usually some spices. Popular brands include Jägermeister and Chartreuse.
Nut - Infused mainly with nuts or nut flavoring but sometimes contain other spices too. Examples of nut liqueurs are Disaranno and Frangelico.
How to Drink Liqueurs
Liqueurs can be enjoyed numerous ways. Since they are pretty sweet in nature, many people consume them as after-dinner drinks. Coffee liqueur or a cream liqueur added to your post dinner coffee or espresso is always satisfying. Herbal liqueurs are often used as digestifs which aid digestion. Floral or bitter liqueurs are delicious simply on rocks or topped with a sparkling wine. Citrus liqueurs such as triple sec are often added to cocktails like margaritas. There’s really no wrong way to use these tasty treats so get to your local liquor store, grab a few and get to mixing!