About Liqueurs

Liqueurs, Schnapps, Anise, and Bitters are terms that cover a wide variety of types of spirits. What they all share in common is that they are flavored spirits. Liqueurs (also known as Cordials) are sweet, flavor-infused spirits that are categorized according to the flavoring agent (i.e., fruits, nuts, herbal and spice blends, creams and such). The word liqueur comes from the Latin liquifacere ("to dissolve") and refers to the dissolving of flavorings in the spirits. Artificial flavorings are strictly regulated in most countries, and where allowed, must be prominently labeled as such.

Top-quality liqueurs are produced by distillation of either the fermented flavor materials or the spirit in which they have been infused. Many liqueurs use finished spirits such as Cognac, Rum or Whisky as their base. Others macerate fruit or other flavorings in a neutral spirit. Crèmes (crème de menthe, crème de cacao, etc.) are liqueurs with a primary flavor (a single, dominant flavor rather than a mix), while cream liqueurs combine dairy cream and alcohol in a homogenized, shelf-stable blend.

All liqueurs are blends, even those with a primary flavor. A touch of vanilla is added to crème de cacao in order to emphasize the chocolate. Citrus flavor notes sharpen the presentation of anise. Herbal liqueurs may contain dozens of different flavor elements that a master blender manipulates to achieve the desired flavor profile.

Liqueurs are not usually aged for any great length of time (although their base spirit may be), but may undergo resting stages during their production in order to allow the various flavors to "marry" into a harmonious blend.

Liqueurs can be hard to classify, but regardless of flavor they can be broadly divided into two categories.

Generics are liqueurs of a particular type (Crème de Cacao or Curaçao, for example) that can be made by any producer.

Proprietaries are liqueurs with trademarked names that are made according to a specific formula. Examples of such liqueurs include Kahlúa, Grand Marnier, and Southern Comfort.

Schnapps is a general term used for an assortment of white and flavored spirits that have originated in northern countries or regions such as Germany or Scandinavia. Schnapps can be made from grain, potatoes, or molasses and be flavored with virtually anything (Watermelon and Root Beer Schnapps from the United States being proof of that). The dividing line between Schnapps and Flavored Vodka is vague and is more cultural than stylistic, although European Schnapps tend to be drier than their American counterparts and liqueurs.

Anise-Flavored Spirits can vary widely in style depending on the country of origin. They can be dry or very sweet, low or high proof, distilled from fermented aniseed or macerated in neutral spirit. In France, Anis (as produced by Pernod) is produced by distilling anise and a variety of other botanicals together. Pastis is macerated, rather than distilled, and contains fewer botanicals than Anis. In Italy, Sambucca is distilled from anise and botanicals, but is then heavily sweetened to make it a liqueur. Oil of fennel (also known as green anise) is frequently added to boost the aroma of the spirit. Greece has a drier, grappa-like liqueur called Ouzo , which is stylistically close to pastis.

Bitters are the modern-day descendants of medieval medical potions and are marketed as having at least some vaguely therapeutic value as stomach settlers or hangover cures. They tend to be flavored with herbs, roots, and botanicals, contain lower quantities of fruit and sugar than liqueurs, and have astringent notes in the palate. Note, these are bitters liqueurs that can be drunk on their own, not cocktails bitters which lack sugar and are designed for accenting cocktails and culinary creations. Classic bitters liqueur examples include: Campari, Aperol, and Suze.

Top Picks for Liqueurs

Grand Marnier Quintessence Liqueur
98 points
$899
Clear golden amber color. Aromas of fresh orange zest, allspice, eucalyptus, hibiscus, galangal, and lemongrass with a round, vibrant, moderately sweet medium body and a peppery, very complex, long dark chocolate dipped tangerine peel, persimmon, dried apricot, black tea, lime oil, nutmeg, and underripe pineapple finish. A knockout, musky orange liqueur with a warm, tropical edge and persistent, elegant flavors.
Awards: 2017 Top 3 Best Spirits, 2017 Best Liqueur
Merlet Creme de Cassis de Saintonge Liqueur
97 points
$20
Best Buy
Opaque dark violet color. Fruity, herbal, complex aromas and flavors of honeyed cassis, delicate spice and herbs, dark chocolate hint, and root vegetable with a thick, moderately sweet full body and a smooth, complex, very long cassis jam, floral honey, and hint of menthol mint and ginger finish. A fantastically rich and pure creme de cassis.
97 points $20 Best Buy
Hoodoo Papa Legba Reserve Chicory Liqueur
96 points
$35
Dark reddish mahogany color. Complex, roasted aromas of blackened walnut, charred chicory, mace, dried rose and geranium, ginseng, and fine espresso with a round, crisp, sweet medium-to-full body and a smooth, epic, long salted milk chocolate, marinated pimentos, black pepper, olive, caramel buttercream, toasted coconut pastry, and orris root finish. An endlessly complex, very distinctive liqueur that will up your cocktail game; a must-try.
Awards: 2018 Best Herb/Spice Liqueur
Tequilcello Limon Tequila Liqueur
96 points
$29.95
Minutely hazy golden straw color. Aromas and flavors of gentian and pine sap, spicy roasted lemon marmalade, wormwood tea and linseed, and grapefruit peel with a glycerous, vibrant, fruity sweet medium body and a graceful, distinctive, very long lemon blossom honey and alpine herbs finish. A wonderfully pure and flavorful three-dimensional lemon liqueur.
Awards: 2018 Best Citrus Liqueur
96 points $29.95
Luxardo Bitter Liqueur
96 points
$25
Bright red color. Herbal, citrusy aromas and flavors of gentian, wormwood, dried citrus, and toasted almond with a round, crisp, bittersweet medium-to-full body and a smooth, elegant, long orange blossom, rhubarb, black licorice, alpine herbs, and cherry pits finish. A complex bitter with a healthy dose of anise.
Awards: 2017 Best Bitter Liqueur
KOVAL Distillery Cranberry Gin Liqueur
95 points
$35
Garnet color. Exotic, spicy aromas of horehound candy, dried ginger, eucalyptus, marinated hot peppers, star anise, sesame, salted plum, and dried mushroom with a satiny, racy, sweet light-to-medium body and a warming, complex, medium-long tart cranberry, sloeberry and oolong tea finish. A totally unique liqueur with piles of East Asian spices and racy acidity; one-of-a-kind craft cocktails, coming right up!
Enrico Toro Torella 72 Liqueur
95 points
$49
Pale golden green color. Herbal, interesting aromas of woodruff, pine sap, aniseed, cinchona bark, and saffron with a satiny, crisp, sweet light body and a tingling, elegant, long cinnamon, sage, thyme, black tea, cedar, and ginger finish. A light, alpine-inspired liqueur that refreshes deliciously.
Padro & Co. Reserva Especial Sweet Vermouth
95 points
$35
Dark brown color. Complex aromas and flavors of fennel, leather, cacao nibs, cola, fig, espresso beans, dried cherry, candied pecan, and nougat with a round, vibrant, moderately sweet medium body and an effortless, complex, long honey on tangerines, quinine, dried apple, cassia, nutmeg, lavender, and gentian finish. A poignant and complex, old-world vermouth for stellar manhattans; thoroughly enjoyable on rocks and in spritzes.
Awards: 2018 Best Vermouth Red
Sugarlands Distilling Co. Appalachian Sippin Cream Butter Pecan Liqueur
95 points
$25
Opaque cream color. Inviting aromas and flavors of snickerdoodle cookie, fresh baked cinnamon-sugar pretzel, condensed milk, and buttery caramel popcorn with a creamy, vibrant, sweet medium-to-full body and a seamless, refreshing, medium-long all butter sugar cookies and almond windmill cookies finish. Enticing fresh-baked aromas and craveable cookie-like flavors will make this liqueur a smash hit at holiday festivities.
Awards: 2018 Best Cream Liqueur
Montenegro Amaro Italiano
95 points
$33
Pale golden amber color. Aromas of bitter orange, honeysuckle, quinine, and sandalwood with a round, crisp, sweet medium body and a sleek, refreshing, long orange blossom, cinchona bark, vanilla, and rooibos tea finish. A luscious amaro that will add intrigue to any cocktail.