Liqueurs, or cordials as they are sometimes called, are alcoholic beverages that contain added sugar and flavouring agents, such as fruit, nuts, chocolate, coffee, herbs and flowers (often in bitters) and other interesting ingredients. The variety is endless. Most range in alcoholic strength between 15 and 55 per cent. Although most tend to be on the sweeter side, some are less so. The ones I’ll cover here are the sweeter versions. Although there are crossovers in flavouring ingredients and styles, liqueurs can be grouped based on their dominant flavouring agent.
Let’s start with fruit liqueurs. Lemon is very popular and the southern Italians create a gem in Limoncello. Stone fruits are huge in liqueur production. The ever-popular cherry brandy is delicious, especially from countries like Denmark (Cherry Herring). Peach is a biggie too in such delights as peach Schnapps. Apricots are also utilized in brandy. Some of my faves are orange-based styles. Grand Marnier from France, meshing orange and cognac, is divine. Another well-known orange-flavoured example is Curacao, from the Caribbean island of the same name.
Next we have berry liqueurs. One of the best known is Crème de Cassis, richly endowed with black berries. I absolutely love Chambord black raspberry liqueur. Here, unctuous black raspberries are blended with citrus peel, vanilla, honey and cognac.
At the top of many cordial lovers’ lists are coffee-flavoured versions and there are numerous ones from around the globe. Kahlua, the Mexican example, is perhaps the best known. In this delicious imbibe, rum acts as the backbone. And who can forget Tia Maria? This Jamaican beauty has coffee beans playing off cane spirit, sugar and vanilla.
Who doesn’t love chocolate? Numerous cordials are flavoured with this all time favourite. France’s Crème de Cacao is rich, thick and syrupy (no cream content). Individual chocolatiers get into the act with their own branding such as Godiva Liqueur, made from world-famous Belgian chocolate of the same name.
Cream liqueurs seem to be hot these days. Although many overlap into other categories, the focus is those that contain dairy cream of some sort, usually requiring refrigeration after opening. Their shelf life is shorter than those without dairy products. Winners such as Bailey’s Irish Cream (made with Irish whisky) and Heather Cream (made with single malt Scotch) are yummy.
I really dig nuts and they render some really tasty cordials. Three great ones come from Italy: Amaretto (made from almonds), Frangelico (made from hazelnuts) and Nocello (made from a combination of walnuts and hazelnuts).
Many other liqueurs exist. Herb-based ones like Italy’s Galliano (made from many herbs), anise-flavoured styles like Italy’s Sambucca and Greece’s Ouzo, and honey liqueurs like Drambuie are all popular. Although not as well known, there are even those made from flowers.
Ways of enjoying them are numerous. Straight up after a meal or with dessert, they’re fabulous. They’re an essential part of many mixed drinks and cocktails. Some folks use them in baking to enhance cakes, cupcakes, pies and tarts. A little bit drizzled over ice cream is nirvana and a shot or two either alongside or in a cup of joe is sublime. Because of their general sweeter nature, even folks who don’t usually partake in alcoholic beverages seem to like them.
Don’t be fooled by their sweetness though. They still contain substantial alcohol, so sipping responsibly is of the utmost importance. The liqueur category at your local monopoly is huge and for good reason. They’re rich, versatile and delicious. You’d be hard pressed to not find one that appeals to your particular taste.
NOTE: My award-winning, comic wine mystery novel Pinot Envy is now available online, at selected bookstores or through my office.
Edward Finstein a.k.a. The Wine Doctor — wine writer, educator, judge, consultant
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