I’m often asked what the definition of a “liqueur” is, since many people have difficulty understanding how there seems to be such a wide range of spirits that fit within the very same category.
To put it simply, a liqueur is a distilled spirit that’s flavored with some variation or form of herbs and spices, cream, fruit, flowers or nuts and finished with a sweetener such as corn syrup or sugar. In most cases, liqueurs are rather sweet, however, there are also some that are dry or tart. Unlike most alcoholic beverages, liqueurs are rarely aged, although some do receiving a resting period to allow their flavor profiles to marry. In this feature, we’re going to focus on some of the most popular liqueurs on the global market and explore which ones are crucial for a well stocked home bar.
Liquor Vs. Liqueur
In past years, the differences between a liquor and a liqueur were easily separated. Vodka, gin, whisky, rum were all liquors, whereas chartreuse, kahlua, benedictine, baileys and schnapps were all liqueurs.
Today, with many of the traditional spirits such as vodka being flavored, it has become rather difficult for many to distinguish between the two. The rule of thumb to separate the two is that liqueurs are sweet and syrupy for the most part, whereas liquors are not. In addition, liqueurs usually have a much lower alcohol content, often between 15-30% ABV. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.
One of the biggest benefits of liqueurs is how versatile they are. Like many spirits, liqueurs can be used in mixed drinks, served neat, over ice, with coffee or mixed with other non-alcoholic beverages such as cream or milk. Many can be used for cooking or in baking and certain liqueurs have even become the major highlight of many desserts.
One thing that’s become very popular is layering liqueurs to create neat striped drinks. We do this by floating the various liqueurs slowly over the back of a spoon which ensures the various liqueurs don’t mix. I would strongly urge you to try cocktails like these for your next casual party or event.
The Bare Necessities
Some spirits are necessary, some are optional. You always need a good bottle of vodka in the house, but it doesn’t mean you need a marshmallow flavored one. Here’s some liqueurs your home bar really can’t (or shouldn’t) live without…
This almond flavored liqueur is one of the most popular liqueurs used at any bar. It’s made using apricot pits and is used in everything from coffee flavored drinks to shooters like the Alabama Slammer. It’s extremely versatile and one that should always remain stocked.
Kailua, in most regions, is the most popular coffee flavored liqueur, but of course can be substituted with a variety of other coffee liqueurs. It’s one of the most commonly used liqueurs called for in cocktail recipes.
Any well stocked bar will have both dry and sweet vermouth. It’s actually an aromatized fortified wine that’s flavored with a variety of botanicals to give it its unique flavor profile. Both dry and sweet vermouths are called for in a wide range of cocktails from the martini to the Manhattan. It’s a must-have for any home bar. Not having vermouth is like not having whisky or vodka.
Bailey’s Irish Cream
Any Irish cream liqueur will do, but Bailey’s is the classic. It’s a creamy liqueur made of Irish whiskey, cream and chocolate that’s used in a wide variety of cocktails and shooters, but also enjoyed neat or on the rocks.
This is an orange flavored liqueur that’s just a premium version of the standard triple sec, which of course is more than suitable. It’s a standard in a huge number of cocktails and one that needs to be on hand at all times.
A satisfying liqueur, it’s made from a secret formula which includes Scotch whisky, heather honey and various herbs. It’s popular in many cocktail recipes but also on its own.
Made of toasted hazelnuts, coffee, cocoa, rhubarb and vanilla, this liqueur is another standard in any bar. It’s exceptionally popular with both men and women and is called for in many cocktails you’ll find in your favorite bartending book.
The Best of the Rest
This potent, anise flavored liqueur was for years, banned in most countries. Originally, 136 proof, it is known for it’s hallucinogenic properties, often spoken of in many urban legends and college tales of traveling through Europe. Today, while it is commercially available in many parts of the world, it is difficult to find “true” absinthe. Should you need it for a cocktail but be unable to procure it, Abisante, Herbsaint and Pernod can all be used as substitutes.
Advocate is a liqueur from Holland that’s generally enjoyed on its own. It’s made from egg yolks, brandy, vanilla and sugar.
This is a really neat tequila based liqueur that’s infused with the Damiana flower. It’s a blend of blue agave anejo and reposed tequilas aged considerably in French Limousine casks. It’s used in a number of cocktails but can also be enjoyed neat or over ice.
This is a difficult liqueur to find, especially in North America. It’s a rather bitter orange liqueur from France. This is one you might have to order online.
Another orange flavored liqueur, this one also has strong notes of rhubarb and various herbs. It’s called for in a variety of cocktails.
This is one liqueur that hasn’t changed its recipe since 1868. It uses a variety of herbs, citrus rinds and roots married together with caramel. It’s very popular in Italy and is used in cocktails as well as being consumed straight or on the rocks.
This German liqueur is honey flavored and has been around since the middle ages. It’s an exceptionally refined liqueur worthy of your attention.
This is America’s take on Benedictine. However, I still recommend going with Benedictine over Benai.
This is one of the most commonly used liqueurs in my home. It’s a secret recipe of herbs, roots and sugar blended with a base of Cognac. One of my evening drinks that I enjoy is the B&B and that’s why this is such a popular liqueur in my home.
It’s exactly what it sounds like. A liqueur that’s blackberry flavored. There’s also a blackberry flavored brandy if you prefer something sweeter. It’s an excellent addition to many cocktails.
A delicious blend of butter and brown sugar is what makes this liqueur taste like candy. It’s sometimes referred to as butterscotch schnapps.
Cacao Mit Nuss
This is a Crème de cacao liqueur that’s flavored with hazelnuts. It’s not a very common liqueur but if you’re the type of gentleman who enjoys a fully stocked bar, you might want a bottle of this.
This is a bitter orange aperitif made with herbs and spices which give it a unique flavor profile. It’s often served on the rocks but is also a key feature in many popular cocktails.
Made of Cognac, red and black raspberries, vanilla and honey, this is a really wonderful liqueur that dates back to Louis XIV.
Many liqueurs have been created by monks and this one is no exception. It comes in both green and yellow and is a staple in many cocktails.
From Denmark comes this naturally flavored cherry liqueur that is used in a wide range of cocktails.
Tart and fruity, this is made from cherries and pits. It’s similar to, but different than maraschino liqueur.
Very popular in shooters and in cocktails, this spicy cinnamon flavored liqueur is one that every bar should keep stocked.
Crème d’ Abricots
A creamy apricot flavored liqueur called for in a variety of recipes.
Crème d’ Almond
A creamy almond and fruit flavored liqueur called for in a variety of recipes.
A creamy banana flavored liqueur called for in a variety of recipes.
A creamy chocolate and vanilla bean flavored liqueur called for in a variety of recipes.
Crème de Cassis
A creamy black currant flavored liqueur from France called for in a variety of recipes.
Crème de Cerise
A creamy and sweet cherry flavored liqueur called for in a variety of recipes.
Crème de Coconut
A creamy or clear coconut flavored liqueur called for in a variety of recipes that contain rum.
Crème de Framboise
A creamy raspberry flavored liqueur called for in a variety of recipes.
Coming in both clear and green varieties, it’s a mint leaf infused liqueur called for in a variety of recipes.
Crème de Mûre
A sweet blackberry flavored liqueur called for in a variety of recipes.
Crème de Noyaux
Pink and distinct, this is an almond flavored liqueur made with plums, cherries, apricots and peaches. It’s one of the less common liqueurs found in home bars today.
Crème de Violette
This purple violet liqueur is used in a range of cocktails and, although hard to find, it remains a staple in classic bartending.
Traditionally orange flavored, it comes in a range of colors including white, blue and green.
This bitter liqueur is artichoke based with a blend of 13 herbs and botanicals. Despite being artichoke based, it doesn’t have a strong artichoke flavor. It’s used in many classic and modern cocktails.
This Mexican liqueur is herbal and light with a unique damiana flavor. It’s also an aphrodisiac.
Domaine de Canton
Ginger flavored and cognac based, this is a great liqueur that shouldn’t be overlooked and can be used in a vast range of cocktails.
In blond, blanc, rouge and white, each liqueur is unique and fabulous. It’s very similar to that of vermouth, however it uses quinine as an addition to its flavor profile.
With bold lemon and pomegranate flavors, this liqueur is also stocked with stimulants such as taurine, ginseng and guarantee.
This is a very potent and bitter menthol/eucalyptus flavored liqueur from Italy produced using 40 herbs, roots and spices.
Another one of my favorite liqueurs, Galliano is a smooth, yet spicy liqueur with bold vanilla and anise flavors. It’s a worthy addition to your liquor cabinet.
Only available seasonally, this is a bold gingerbread flavored liqueur that’s great for holiday cocktails and shooters.
From the famous Godiva Chocolatier, comes a full range of chocolate flavored liqueurs perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Very popular with younger females, this is a cinnamon schnapps that has 24k gold leaf flakes in it. It’s great for shots and cocktails and it’s a lot of fun to use.
This is one liqueur I almost put at the top under essentials. It’s an orange flavored and Cognac based liqueur that works perfectly in a huge range of cocktail recipes.
A great substitute for blue curaçao, this is a tropical bright blue liqueur that is great for summer fun.
With an Irish whiskey base and an infusion of honey, herbs and other spirits, this liqueur is over 1000 years old and a staple in any gentleman’s bar.
This is perhaps one of the most infamous liqueurs often used in shooters for the young bar crowd. However, this German liqueur can also be a wonderful addition to some of the finer classic cocktails and should always be kept on hand in your bar.
Loft Lavender Cello
This organic lavender flavored liqueur is sweet and herbal making it a great addition to a number of cocktails.
Sweet and yet lemon flavored, this is a dessert liqueur made from the zest that can be used in baking, shooters and many cocktails.
This Spanish, vanilla flavored liqueur is used in a small group of cocktails and is made from a secret blend of 43 ingredients which gives it a unique flavor profile like no other.
This is an exceptionally sweet liqueur flavored using lychee fruit.
Exactly as it sounds, this is a sweet, orange colored liqueur that has dominant mango flavors.
This cherry flavored liqueur is clear and dry, made from the cherry and its pits. It’s similar to other cherry liqueurs but has its own unique flavor.
This melon flavored liqueur is a wonderful addition to any bar as it’s capable of being used in a variety of cocktails and shooters.
Produced by Grand Marnier, this is a top-shelf Cognac based liqueur flavored with natural black vanilla that’s imported from Madagascar.
This is a very popular liqueur from Greece that’s anise flavored with a very high ABV. You don’t need much of it and most people will mix it with water before adding it to a cocktail.
PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
Incredibly sweet, this is a pomegranate flavored liqueur that’s used in some cocktails but often cooked with as well.
From Patron tequila comes this orange liqueur that’s great for use in tequila based cocktails or as a substitute for other orange flavored liqueurs.
Another tequila based liqueur from Patron, this time flavored with roasted coffee. It’s not as sweet as most coffee liqueurs but has a much higher ABV.
Usually a brandy base, this is a peach flavored liqueur that’s exactly what it sounds like.
Very similar to crème de menthe, it’s slightly less sweet with a voracious mint flavor used in a variety of winter cocktails.
This Jamaican made rum liqueur has a bold allspice flavor that is often called for in cocktails, especially tropical ones.
Anyone in Southern England will know this liqueur all too well. It’s a secret blend of fruit and spices most commonly found in the gin based Pimm’s No. 1 that’s used in the namesake cocktail.
Usually made in the Caribbean and Hawaii, this is a tart and fruity pineapple flavored liquor that’s great for summer cocktails.
Usually only available seasonally, this is a pumpkin flavored liqueur that works very well in many winter cocktails and shooters.
This is a very high proof, anise flavored liqueur from Turkey.
Creamy and decadent, this liqueur is made from Caribbean rum and Wisconsin dairy cream that’s infused with vanilla, sugar and cinnamon.
This is another liqueur that should be a staple in your bar. It’s an elderflower flavored liqueur that can be used to liven up many cocktails such as the Tom Collins.
Similar to Ouzo, this liqueur comes from Italy instead of Greece. It’s a very powerful black licorice flavored cocktail that’s often used in cocktails and shooters.
Schnapps comes in a wide range of flavors including cinnamon, apple and peppermint which tend to be the most popular.
Don’t let the name fool you. This isn’t gin at all. It’s a red liqueur made from sloe plums. It’s used in a wide range of cocktails and can produce a creamy head when it’s shaken, not stirred.
Another bar staple, Southern Comfort is an American made liqueur with a whiskey base that’s flavored with peaches. It’s called for in a wide range of cocktails.
This Italian liqueur literally translates to “witch” and is made with 70 herbs and spices giving it a unique yellow color and distinct flavor profile.
Bright pink in color, this is a wild strawberry sour mash liqueur that’s produced in the US.
Direct from Mexico, this strawberry flavored liqueur is mixed with tequila and called for in many modern cocktails.
A less premium version of Cointreau, this is a generic orange flavored liqueur called for in many different recipes.
A blend of vanilla and citrus flavors makes this Italian made liqueur a great addition to bars and a prime ingredient in many cocktails. It also comes in a cinnamon flavor.
This greenish liqueur is made with sake and Asian vodka that’s mixed with twenty fruits and botanicals.
A blend of 40 secret herbs and spices is base for this bitter liqueur from Hungary.
VeeV Açai Spirit
If you’ve jumped on the super fruit bandwagon this açai flavored liqueur might be the one you’re looking for.
This is a vodka based liqueur infused with blood oranges, passion fruit and mango.
Whiskey based, this Canadian liqueur is flavored with honey and used in many cocktails and shooters.
A green tea flavored liqueur from Japan, it’s made with lemon grass, various herbs and of course green tea.
Slightly less bitter than Unicom, this herbal liqueur is very popular in North America and can serve as a substitute for Jaegermeister as well.
This is just a small sampling of some of the more popular liqueurs available on the market today. Obviously, there are many others out there, but hopefully, this will give you a nice introduction to the wonderful world of flavored liqueurs. What’s your favorite liqueur and how do you drink it?