Crème Liqueurs

Posted on 08 Sep 2012 03:15

Crème is the name given to those liqueurs that are extra sweet and usually syrupy. They have up to twice as much sugar as other liqueurs and are heavier and denser in texture. They can be sipped alone but they are also great for adding a lot of sweet flavor to mixed drinks.

The word crème should not be confused with cream as there is no cream in crème liqueurs. The word does mean cream in French, but here it is meant to describe the thicker consistency and higher sugar content. There are, however, cordials that contain cream and these are called, predictably, cream liqueurs. crème are generally 50 to 60 proof. Crème de cacao and Crème de menthe are the most popular flavors.

Cremes with Crème in Their Name and Their Flavors

This list gives many of the crème liqueurs that have the word crème in their name, and their flavors. These are generic designations. Any product can use them as they are not brand names. There may be other liqueurs based on the same flavors but that do not use the word Crème in their name. Some of these are proprietary, like Kahlua, the best selling coffee liqueur, or Chambord, a rasberry liqueur of exceptional quality, but that is still very sweet. Some other similar liqueurs may be just as sweet and have a similar texture, and could be considered to fall into the same general category. On the other hand, other liqueurs with a similar flavor base may not be as sweet, and so may be used as a substitute when less sweetness is desired.

  • Crème d'abricots: apricot flavored.
  • Crème d'amande: (crème d'almonds) almond flavored, usually with a pink color.
  • Crème d'ananas: pineapple flavored.
  • Crème de Banane: (crème de banana) Banana flavored with white and brown versions.
  • Crème de Cacao: chocolate liqueur - cocoa, chocolate, and vanilla bean flavored in clear or dark brown versions. Sweet and syrupy.
  • Crème de Cafe: Coffee flavored which is similar to Kahlua but not as rich.
  • Crème de Cassis: black currant flavored. Became famous when it was mixed with Aligote, a very tart white Burgundy, resulting in the aperitif called Kir. A Kir Royale is made with champagne instead of wine.
  • Crème de Cerise: cherry liqueur - cherry flavored.
  • Crème de Fraise: strawberry liqueur - wild strawberry and herb flavored.
  • Crème de Framboise: raspberry liqueur, flavored raspberries.
  • Crème de Mandarine: tangerine flavored.
  • Crème de Menthe: mint flavored which comes in green or white.
  • Crème de Mocha: (moka) Coffee flavored.
  • Crème de Mûre: blackberry flavored.
  • Crème de Myrtille: blueberry flavored.
  • Crème de Noisette: hazelnut flavored.
  • Crème de Noyaux: (crème de Noyau or Noya) almond-flavored from peach or apricot kernels.
  • Crème de Pêche: peach flavored.
  • Crème de Prunelle: prune, raisin, and plum flavored.
  • Crème de Vanille: Vanilla flavored.
  • Crème de Violette: (crème de Yvette) violet flavored.
  • Crème de Rose : Rose petals, vanilla, and various spices.

Crème de Menthe

Crème de Menthe deserves a special mention since it used to be the most popular liqueur flavor in the U.S. It was used to make the vintage cocktail the Grasshopper, which was a sweet drink that tasted like mint-chocolate chip ice cream. Like the Pink Lady, this was a drink that men just could not order and maintain their masculinity, but plenty did anyway. It also helped cement Crème de Cacao's place, since this was responsible for the chocolate flavor. This cocktail's popularity was at it's height in the 60's but you could still find a few diehard fans in the early 70's and beyond. Nowadays, you find more people sipping peppermint schnapps than Grasshopper cocktails.

Crème de menthe in cocktail glass

Crème de Menthe

Crème de menthe in cocktail glass

Crème de Menthe

The grasshopper was basically Crème de Menthe, Crème de Cacao, and heavy cream. Most people would probably be embarrassed to order one today. However, it does lend itself to tons of variation. The green crème de menthe can be replaced with white and other flavors, like coffee, can be added. For a drink that has some of the same taste but is a little less embarrassing, try an Irish Grasshopper, using white crème de menthe. Great for the holidays.

grasshopper cocktail

Grasshopper Cocktail, color may vary!
Image by TexasDex via wikimedia

grasshopper cocktail

Grasshopper Cocktail, color may vary!
Image by TexasDex via wikimedia

Irish Grashopper

2 oz. Bailey's Irish Cream Liqueur
1/2 oz. half and half
1/2 oz. crème de cacao (or other chocolate liqueur, like Godiva which would be topnotch)
1/4 oz. crème de menthe

Combine everything in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake very well. Strain into a tall glass filled with as much ice as you like.

The beauty hear is that you put it in a tall glass instead of a dainty cocktail glass. And it looks more like a coffee drink than a bright green chemical spill.

Crème de Cassis and the Kir Cocktail

Crème de Cassis is a black currant liqueur and, as stated above, it is used to make a popular Paris cocktail, the Kir. There, it is most often drank as an apéritif (before dinner drink). It is named after Canon Felix Kir who, as mayor of Dijon, used the drink to popularize the black currant liqueur, which was a local product. The fact is, however, the drink had been around a long time before that and was called a Blanc Cassis. Blanc for the wine and cassis for the spirit. Mayor Kir offered it during receptions to visiting dignitaries.

Originally, the drink was made with Burgogne Aligote but now various wines are used in France, according to the preference of who is serving it. The Aligote was a lesser wine so many prefer a Chardonnay based Burgundy.

Kir Cocktail ingredients, Crème de Cassis and white wine

Kir Apéritif Ingredients
Crème de Cassis and white wine

Kir Cocktail ingredients, Crème de Cassis and white wine

Kir Apéritif Ingredients
Crème de Cassis and white wine


White Wine
1/2 oz. crème de cassis

Pour a glass of white wine and then carefully and slowly pour the crème de cassis into it.

If you order the drink in America, many bartenders are using, mistakenly, Chambord, probably in an effort to be fancy or high-end. Chambord is a proprietary fruit liqueur and it is definitely top-shelf. It is also as sweet and viscous as most crèmes. However, it is not a black currant liqueur, but a raspberry one. It also uses a cognac base, with honey, vanilla, and other proprietary herbs. The taste is not very similar but it is still good. You may want to specify cassis should you order one, to get the original experience. In France, it is now routine to ask whether you want your Kir with cassis (black currant), mûre (blackberry), or pêche (peach). There are also several kir variations:

  • Kir Breton: made with Brittany cider instead of wine.
  • Kir Cardinal: made with red wine instead of white.
  • Kir Imperial: made with champagne and raspberry liqueur instead of cassis.
  • Kir Normand: made with Normandy cider instead of wine.
  • Kir Pèttillant: made with sparkling wine.
  • Kir Royale: made with champagne instead of wine.
  • Cider Royale: made with cider instead of wine, and the addition of calvados.

Brands of Crème Liqueurs

Unless you must keep on hand every possible flavor of crème liqueurs, I'd suggest you don't go too cheap on these. There are two problems. Crème liqueurs, since they have one prominent flavor, are generic, and can be made by anyone. And I mean anyone, including your neighbor in his kitchen. In fact, you could make a great one yourself. However, a true artisan liqueur will have a little bit more complexity, with perhaps some additional components to round things out and bring out the flavors of the key ingredient. Whereas a rip-off brand may do nothing more than mix a neutral spirit with an extract and syrup (and color, if needed or desired).

Also, crèmes are so well known and popular that there are many cheap and noticeably crappy brands. What you'll get is a sickly sweet sugared-alcohol concoction with no real depth of flavor, and a chemical aftertaste.

This is why there are proprietary brands of crèmes and other liqueurs. For instance, the ever-popular Kahlua could easily be called a crème de cafe but it is made with a proprietary recipe and has a proprietary name. The recipes of proprietary brands are closely guarded secrets. And although there is nothing wrong with a liqueur made with a neutral grain base, the finer brands may be based on finished spirits, such as brandy, which have a more complex and interesting flavor, and take much more skill and caring to make, as the finished spirit adds it's own flavor and must be matched with the added flavor ingredients more carefully.

Chances are, you'll only want one or two crèmes around at the most, and you won't be drinking it like beer. Well, okay, if you like to drink a lot of beer then you probably won't be using a lot of crème liqueurs, but you get my point. So the question is what is cheap, in terms of crèmes? Well, it does depend somewhat on the flavor, but even a fine crème from Marie Brizard, of Bordeux, France, can be had for 20 to 25 dollars (brizard is known for its Anisette). On the other hand, you can get a good Bols for 10 to 15 dollars.

For other high end French brands, look for Lejay Lagoute out of Dijon, which has a good line of crème liqueurs. Their chocolate liqueurs are good, and their Double Crème de Cassis de Dijon, are particularly good. Another higher end bottler out of Dijon is Edmond Briottet, which is known for it's Crème de Cassis de Dijon, being its high seller, and also makes a number of crèmes like strawberry, fig, cherry, chestnut, rose, and bergamot orange. A bottle can cost around 25 to 40 dollars. Yet another very high quality French line is Merlet, which is moderately priced. Gabriel Boudier and Joseph Cartron are other notable brands and for something truly different, Rothman and Winter makes the only Crème de Violette that I know to exist at this time.

The question, however, is not which brands to avoid, because there is not a brand out their that someone will not enjoy. The question is how to know you've found a good one. Well, bad crèmes tend to taste like medicine! For instance, a bad crème de menthe might taste like a strong mouthwash, and many of the fruit flavors might remind you of cough syrup. This is the result of a high alcohol grain spirit being mixed with a poor quality fruit (or other flavoring), with no attention to craftsmanship or quality. The flavor may be an extract that is added, instead of a careful maceration process or other process, and this flavor might have it's own chemical edge. So, if it reminds you of mouthwash or Robitussin, you've got a bad one. If it tastes like a very sweet and fruity alcohol drink, but not like medicine, you've got an okay one, say for cocktails. If the sweetness is balanced by a little depth and complexity of flavor, which will be revealed not just by an overwhelming fruit taste (especially an artificial one) but other flavor notes like vanilla, or herbal, or flowery, you may have a good one or a very good one. After that you just have to figure out which one you enjoy the most.

If you want the flavor but in something that is not as sweet as a crème, look for those flavors that are simply labelled liqueurs instead of crème de flavor. For instance, if you want a chocolate liqueur but crème de cacao is too sweet, you can go for a Godiva chocolate liqueur. Keep in mind, however, that just because a product does not use the crème designation on their label, does not mean it isn't one. That is, a product simply calling itself peach liqueur, for example, may just as sweet and syrupy as its crème de peche counterpart.

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