A liqueur is an alcoholic beverage that has been flavored with fruit, herbs, nuts, spices, flowers, or cream
and bottled with added sugar. Liqueurs are typically quite sweet; they are usually not aged for long but may
have resting periods during their production to allow flavors to marry. The distinction between liqueurs and
spirits is not simple because many spirits are available today in a flavored form (e.g., flavored vodka). The
most reliable guide to classification is that liqueurs contain added sugar, but spirits do not. Some people
distinguish between liqueurs and cordials, but the words have become almost synonymous. Dessert
wines may taste like a liqueur, but they do not contain any added flavoring or sugar. Most liqueurs have a lower
alcohol content (15%-30% ABV) than spirits, but some liqueurs contain as much as 55% ABV.
As early as 800BC, the ancient Chinese were distilling spirits from fermented rice wine, and the ancient
Egyptians and Greeks were known to be making spirits from grape wine by 400BC. It is safe to speculate
that these ancient people would have macerated their spirits with fruit and spices to produce the earliest
liqueurs. However, it is only in Medieval Europe that we can trace the history of Liqueurs with any certainty.
One things is for sure, liqueurs were historical descendants of herbal medicines, often those prepared by
monks, as Chartreuse or Bénédictine. Liqueurs were made in Italy as early as the 13th century and their
consumption was later required at all treaty signings during the Middle Ages. Nowadays, liqueurs are made
worldwide and are served in many ways: by themselves, poured over ice, with coffee, mixed with cream or other
mixers to create cocktails, etc. They are often served with or after a dessert. Liqueurs are also used in cooking.
Some liqueurs are prepared by infusing certain woods, fruits, or flowers, in either water or alcohol, and adding sugar or other items. Others are distilled from aromatic or flavoring agents. Anise liqueurs have the interesting
property of turning from transparent to cloudy when added to water: the oil of anise remains in solution in
the presence of a high concentration of alcohol, but crystallizes when the alcohol concentration is reduced.
Layered drinks are made by floating different-coloured liqueurs in separate layers. Each liqueur is poured
slowly into a glass over the back of a spoon or down a glass rod, so that the liquids of different densities remain
unmixed, creating a striped effect. The word liqueur comes from the Latin liquifacere (“to liquefy”).
Sugar Makes All the Difference
In the world of spirits, liqueurs are something extra special. Their colors alone give an immediate hint of what is to
come, confirmed by the first sip. From curative herbal elixirs to enticing creations made from exotic fruits,
liqueurs conjure up dreams, making them far more than just a combination of color, smell, taste and mouthfeel.
At the same time these magical potions have been treated very unimaginatively by the powers that be; according to European Union spirit regulations, all an alcoholic drink made for human consumption
needs in order to call itself a “liqueur” is a minimum sugar content of 15oz per gallon. It is no surprise that
liqueurs are so popular, for in the current profusion of choice there will be one to suit everybody. The
palate ranges from rich, dry herbal cordials to fresh, fruity specialities and velvety, sweet temptations made
with cream and honey. Sugar was expensive and it took so much of it to product liqueurs that they became
delicacies beyond the reach of the average citizen. In the good old days, those without means would only
get the chance to sip the mysterious concoctions if they were sick, for monks skilled in the art of healing
would mix liqueurs as medicine. At the beginning of the 19th century sugar from the colonies and from
The great diversity of ingredients and product methods means there are hundreds of different liqueur styles. For these luxury drinks, color is just as big a part of the peel as aroma and taste. With so many flavors and
such a diversity of character available, tasting liqueurs can be quite a dizzying experience. And although most
liqueurs are not as strong as spirits, their sweet, smooth taste can disguise their alcohol content - so beware.
Liqueurs come in every color of the rainbow. Some are completely clear or neutral in color, while others are
defined by their hue as much as anything else. There are few rules when assessing the color of a liqueur. As
with spirits, check the color in bright daylight (but not direct sunlight) against a sheet of plain white paper;
clear liqueurs should be perfectly clear, and have no haze. Liqueurs are often viscous, and cling to the glass,
which serves to intensify the effect of their color.
Liqueurs typically carry a touch of sweetness in the nose, but their aromas are as varied as their tastes and colors, reflecting the ingredients use in their manufacture. Key aroma groups are; fruit, often rich and intense like
PAMA and X-RATED and VEEV; citrus zest or peel like PATRON CITRONGE; spice, sometimes sweet like
cinnamon, but also bitter, as in the anise drinks and kummel. Toasted nut aromas, particularly almond, are
important, especially in the great Italian liqueurs like amaretto. Sweet toffee aromas are strong, as well as
whiskey-based liqueurs. Alcohol spirit comes through in some of the traditional herbal liqueurs, like in
Jag ermeister, while some of the softer liqueur have notes of flowers. Coffee can also be dominate, as in
When tasting a good liqueur, its sweetness should not feel too sticky or fatty in the mouth, and the finish
should be fresh - never tired or overly sweet. Beyond this, liqueurs as a group contain almost every taste on
the planet. A good starting point when tasting is to identify opposing taste “categories”. The notion of taste
also encompasses the liqueurs body full or light, smooth or firm) as well as its length (how the taste persists
and develops after the drink is swallowed).
Liqueurs in the kitchen
Liqueurs are enjoyed in their own right, but their sweet, powerful flavors have won them a place in the kitchen,
too. Amaretto can be used to flavor cakes and is delicious poured over ice cream, creme de cassis blends well
with chocolate in desserts, and Frangelico adds a pungent kick to a cheesecake. Liqueurs are used as luxurious
filling for chocolates and in the manufacture of premium jams - the alcohol is an effective preservative.
Different Ways to Enjoy Liqueurs
Liqueurs are nothing if not versatile. Not only are they made from an amazing range of ingredients in countless
different styles, but they can also be enjoyed in all sorts of different ways. They can be served as aperitifs,
either on their own or mixed with fruit juices or another drink. Liqueurs can be drunk after dinner in a traditional
liqueur glass or mixed with ice or other ingredients. Mixed with fruit juices or sodas, some liqueur can
be enjoyed as session drinks, while others are vital cocktail ingredients. The wonderful thing about liqueurs is
their sheer variety, which is a tribute to hundreds of years of human inventiveness, so explore the possibilities!
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