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
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
Vittone The Original Menta Fernet Vittone
98 points
Best Buy
Dark brown black color. Delicate aromas and flavors of chocolate mint cookie, delicate spices, and roasted nuts with a silky, vibrant, moderately sweet medium-to-full body and a warming, nuanced, long finish with accents of peppermint oil, honey, delicate herbs, and sassafras. A superb and delicious minty fernet with great drinkability.
98 points $23 Best Buy
Whidbey Island Distillery Blackberry Liqueur
98 points
Opaque violet black color. Exotic bold aromas and flavors of spiced berries and apricots, floral honey, exotic tea, and chocolate with a tangy, moderately sweet medium body and a warming, complex, finish with nuances of Asian spices and cola. A fantastically flavorful and complex berry liqueur.
Merlet Creme de Cassis de Saintonge Liqueur
97 points
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
Lazzaroni Maraschino
97 points
Copper color. Attractive complex aromas of cherry bubblegum and cordial, circus peanut, floral jasmine tea, and delicate spices with a satiny, bright, moderately sweet medium-to-full body and a warming, involved, medium-length citrus cream, pepper, orange blossom honey, and pistachio brittle finish. A delicious and elegant fruit liqueur.
97 points $23.99
Luxardo Bitter Liqueur
96 points
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
Jägermeister Liqueur
96 points
Brown color. Lively, minty, medicinal aromas of salty roasted walnuts, anise, and molasses spice cookie with a glycerous, bright, sour medium body and a warming, complex, long gingerbread, mincemeat, sarsaparilla, and peppery spices finish. A delicious, dangerous drinkable and balanced herbal liqueur.
96 points $24.99
Balsam American Amaro
96 points
Tasted Neat. Dark brown black color. Complex, spicy herbal aromas of anise, gingerbread, chocolate spice raisin cake, and pink peppercorn with a velvety, vibrant, moderately sweet medium-full body and a warming, long bitter barks, wormwood tea, sarsaparilla, and grilled citrus peels finish. A bold, fantastically rich and balanced amaro with cascading waves of flavor. Tasted as Vermouth. Dark violet black color. Bright, spicy, fruity complex aromas of cherry rhubarb pie, rich baking spices, delicate herbs, and chocolate drizzled blood orange with an even, racy, sweet medium body and a tingling, long bitter barks, wormwood tea, toasty cedar, and cardamom finish. A sensationally vibrant and flavor packed vermouth with great balance, style and length; sure to be a hit on its own or in craft cocktails.
96 points $31.99
Sovrano Limoncello Original Liqueur
96 points
Bright creamy cloudy straw color. Rich, citrusy aromas of lemon zest and lemon curd with a supple, crisp, fruity sweet medium-to-full body and a tingling, complex, medium-long honey, sugar cane, and minerals finish. A superbly pure and delicious limoncello.
broVo Jammy Red Vermouth
96 points
Best Buy
Dark garnet color. Bold, floral, herbal aromas of menthol mint, pine sap, eucalyptus, grilled grapefruit, and stewed wild berries with a supple, sweet-and-sour medium-to-full body and a warming, very complex, long candied jasmine, candied orange peels, ginger mint gum, and peppery Asian spices finish with silky tannins. A fantastic roller coaster of forest and Asian spice flavors for adventurous cocktails.
Awards: 2014 Best Buy Bar - Best Value Vermouth under $20
96 points $19.99 Best Buy