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

Tempus Fugit Creme de Banane Liqueur
99 points
Golden amber color. Fruity, inviting aromas and flavors of banana bread, brown sugar, and fried bananas in butter and cognac sauce with a thick, soft, very sweet fat body and a smooth, distinctive, medium-long finish that shows overtones of banana custard and candied raisins. A vivid, wonderfully natural Banana Liqueur to be used liberally in cocktails; it’s rare to find Liqueurs with such exceptional purity and intensity of flavor.
99 points $47.13
Merlet Creme De Cassis de Saintonge Fruit Liqueur
98 points
Best Buy
Rich dark garnet color. Aromas of black cassis, hints of peppermint, toast, and citronella with a bright, sweet fat body and a sleek, massive, medium-long smoked peppercorns and fine syrah finish. An intense, complex and generous Creme de Cassis with bold, pure flavors; the go-to choice for a Kir Royale, an El Diablo, and many other classic cocktails.
98 points $23 Best Buy
Joseph Cartron Sureau Elderflower Liqueur
97 points
Straw yellow color. Aromas and flavors of lime leaf, lemongrass, citronella, beeswax, and ripe peach with a silky, vibrant, sweet medium body and a smooth, complex, long finish conveying notes of jasmine, candied ginger, crystallized lemon peel, and honey. A delicious melange of florals, herbs and spices dance on the tongue in this begging-to-be-mixed Liqueur.
Awards: 2021 Best Liqueur
Tempus Fugit Gran Classico Bitter Liqueur
97 points
Dark amber color. Aromas of cardamom, cardoons, cedar, saffron, rhubarb, and ginseng with a round, crisp, moderately sweet medium-to-full body and a smooth, elegant, long hints of carob, butterscotch, and cola finish. A rich, stylish bitter Liqueur that opens the palate; complex and spicy, this Aperitivo will complement a wide array of spirits and most any moment.
97 points $48.28
Merlet Crème De Poire Williams Pear Liqueur
96 points
Clear color. Aromas of ripe pear, crisp heirloom apple, and jasmine with a round, crisp, sweet light-to-medium body and a smooth, complex, long toasted apple cake, ripe melon, honeycrisp apples, and hints of mint finish. A vivid and pure pear Liqueur with delicious length and balance.
Awards: 2021 Best Fruit Liqueur
Tempus Fugit Kina LAero DOr Aperitif Liqueur
96 points
Gold color. Complex aromas of Seville oranges, marmalade, oregano, chamomile jelly, fennel, and ginger-peach tea with a satiny, vibrant, moderately sweet medium body and a smooth, complex, long hints of gentian, honey, caramel, and orris root finish. A very appealing, highly balanced Aperitivo that’s easy to love; spritz and cocktail away with this deliciously refreshing Liqueur.
96 points $47.13
Hoodoo Papa Legba Reserve Chicory Liqueur
96 points
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
Cynar 70 Bitter Liqueur
95 points
Mahogany color. Aromas of white pepper, bitter roots, and aloe vera with a slightly chewy, crisp, moderately sweet medium body and a smooth, captivating, medium-length cocoa powder, sweet carrot, carob, angelica, and black tea finish. A chewy, potent Bitter Liqueur for Black Manhattans and Last Word riffs.
Awards: 2021 Best Bitter Liqueur
Merlet Soeurs Cerises Cherry Liqueur
95 points
Dark garnet color. Aromas and flavors of cherry cola, devil’s food cake, bomb pop, and black cassis syrup with a round, vibrant, cloying fat body and a seamless, complex, medium-long finish with overtones of berry jam and cherry slushie. A bold berry Liqueur with subtle chocolate nuances.
Grand Marnier Cuvée Louis-Alexandre Liqueur
95 points
Golden amber color. Aromas of dried orange peel, ripe apple, preserved cherries, spiced tea, and dried figs and dates with a satiny, bright, sweet light-to-medium body and a polished, medium-length ripe banana, baked peach, dark chocolate, cinnamon pastry, and honey finish. A rich and complex flavored brandy liqueur to add nuance, lift and body to stirred cocktails.
95 points $69.99