What is a Liqueur?
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Posted on 14 Sep 2012 17:11




A liqueur is not the same thing as a liquor. A liquor is a fermented alcohol product that has been distilled. Liquors are often called spirits. Liqueurs, on the other hand, are basically some type of alcohol spirit which has been flavored, and sweetened. The flavor comes from the spirit being combined with different flavoring agents such as fruits, nuts, seed, berries, flowers, herbs, or other ingredients.

Liqueurs started out as a way of extracting and preserving essences from medicinal roots, barks, seeds, leaves, flowers, or other plant ingredients. Or, it is safer to say that these things were thought to be medicinal. These ingredients were based on folk medicine rather than any systematized medical tradition. These "spirits" could be meant to cure a stomach ache, or a nervous disposition, or even to recover from grief or loss. They weren't called liqueurs, of course; they were called elixirs. These concoctions began to be made in the Middle Ages. Some of the first elixirs, in fact, were made by monks.

Distilled alcohol is a great way to extract the active components, and flavor, from different ingredients, which will then have a very long shelf life. Of course, since the alcohol itself made people feel better, there was no reason to doubt the effectiveness of the medicines! The word cordial basically means the same thing as liqueur, but it was originally reserved for these types of medicinal preparations. Even after the curative powers of the liqueurs began to be doubted, people still liked the taste of them, so they stuck around.


Bottle of Hpnotiq liqueur

Hpnotiq Liqueur
Vodka base flavored
with fruit juices and cognac.

Image by Sam Ford via flickr

Bottle of Hpnotiq liqueur

Hpnotiq Liqueur
Vodka base flavored
with fruit juices and cognac.

Image by Sam Ford via flickr



Despite the lack of true success from these medicines, there was often logic in their development and use. For instance, Curaçao (a triple sec) was conceived as a way of preventing scurvy on British Naval ships. It was observed that sailors started getting scurvy after their supply of citrus fruit ran out. Of course, such fruit could not keep long aboard ship. Curaçao, then, was a way to infuse alcohol with the essence of dried orange peel. This seems perfectly logical, as the alcohol would make the perfect preservative, keeping the sailors in citrus for the long haul. The problem is that not every constituent of a plant or fruit will necessarily be extracted. What they didn't realize was that it was a particular component of the citrus fruit which prevented scurvy: vitamin C. Unfortunately, the vitamin C did not make its way into the curaçao so the liqueur never was a cure or prevention for scurvy. It was, however, a tasty and popular drink.

The Spirit

Did you notice the word spirit above? You ever wondered why distilled alcoholic beverages are sometimes called spirits? Well, when people first started distilling alcohol, they believed they were literally extracting and trapping life-giving spirits in their elixirs. Basically, the breath of life. The word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus which means "breath" as well as soul, vigor, courage…things like that. Most of the words for these spirits in different regions had to do with the water of life.


Bottle Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
The Real Marascchino

Bottle Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
The Real Marascchino




Aquavitaeis is the Latin for "water of life." The French said aqua vitae, which today is eau-de-vie. The Latin term became uisge beatha in Gaelic, or usquebaugh. Usquebaugh is an intermediate form of the word whisky. The Irish equivalent was uisci or uisce beatha, so you can see how the modern word whiskey came to us. Funny thing is, the part that sounded like whisky only meant water. The Scandinavian equivalent was aquavit and for the Spanish it was aquardiente. All these names were used long before the word alcohol came to be used for intoxicating spirits. Grain alcohol, Russian vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, cognac, and brandy are all examples of spirits. A spirit forms the base of a liqueur.

The following list gives a brief description of some common and not so common liqueurs, arranged in alphabetical order, for general reference. As you use this list, remember that some liqueur names, such as triple sec, are generic. Most American liqueurs are generic ones, like triple sec, curacao, and various cremes or schnapps (green apple, etc.), except for some notable exceptions like Southern Comfort. Most of the branded, and most famous liqueurs, such as Grand Marnier, Dissaronno, and Kahlúa are proprietary.

American companies such as Hiram Walkere, Bols, and DeKuyper produce large ranges of flavored liqueurs, many of them unheard of in Europe.

For further explanation of some types of liqueurs, and other information, see also the liqueur list.

List of Liqueurs

See also our list of generic Crème Liqueur flavors and overview.

  • Advocaat: Brandy base with egg yolks, sugar, vanilla. Basically a sort of eggnog, it was originally thickened with whipped avocado puree by the Dutch settlers in South America who developed it. Holland then produced it with eggs.
  • Alizé de France: French Cognac based liqueur flavored with passion fruit and other fruits. The following are variations:
    • Alizé Gold Passion: Flavored only with passion fruit (golden-yellow color).
    • Alizé Bleu: Passion fruit, plus an addition of vodka, cherry, and ginger.
    • Alizé Red Passion: Adds cranberry juice (deep red color).
    • Alizé Rose: Adds vodka, strawberry, litchi, and rose petal.
    • Alizé Wild Passion: Adds mango and pink grapefruit (reddish orange color).
  • Anisette: Neutral Spirit flavored with anise, and a small amount of licorice (clear colored).
  • Anesone: Italian anise flavored liqueur, drier than Anisette with a higher proof (clear colored).
  • Bailey's Irish Cream: Irish Whiskey flavored with cream and chocolate. Very sweet.
  • Benedictine: Brandy flavored with herbs (actual ingredients trade secret).
  • Chambord: Cognac base flavored with raspberry.
  • Chartreuse: distilled wine base flavored with herbal extracts. Two main types, Green Chartreuse, which is naturally colored and flavored with 130 herbal extracts, and Yellow Chartreuse, which is milder and sweeter. There are are a couple of special varieties, as well, one of which is aged in oak barrels.
  • Cherry Heering: (Peter Heering/Heering Cherry Liqueur). Brandy base flavored with wild Stevns cherries. The most famous cherry liqueur. Sweet but with a balanced and deep black cherry flavor.
  • Chéri-Suisse: A pink colored cherry and chocolate flavored liqueur from Switzerland. Something like an alcohol version of a chocolate covered cherry.
  • Cointreau: Neutral Spirit flavored with orange. Cointreau is a "triple sec" liqueur and was originally called Triple Sec White Curaçao but the name was changed due to so many similarly named liqueurs, as Curaçao is a generic designation. This is a very popular triple sec, and choice for a Margarita1!
  • Curaçao: generic term for a neutral, or sometimes brandy spirit flavored with dried orange peels. Originally, the liqueur called Curaçao was made from the dried peels of Larahas orange grown on the island of Curaçao, with perhaps lemon added as well as spices such as cardamom, mace flowers, and cloves (as examples). It comes clear but is colored blue, green, or red, with the most common being blue, used to give a bright blue exotic color to cocktails. Sweeter than a triple sec, like Cointreau, above, or any generic triple sec, below.
  • Drambuie: Scottish malt whiskey base flavored with heather honey and various herbs. Probably the king-pin of the whiskey based liqueurs.
  • Dissarono Originale: an amaretto liqueur that is up there with Grand Marnier in terms of popularity.
  • Falernum: Rum base Caribbean liqueur with bitter almond, lime, vanilla, and other flavors.
  • Frangelico: Italian liqueur; Neutral base flavored with hazelnut and herbs.
  • Glayva: Scotch whiskey base flavored with honey and herbs.
  • Goldschlager: Swiss; High alcohol (87 proof) cinnamon schnapps with flakes of 24 karat gold floating in it. Somewhat sweet, but not as sweet as American schnapps. An internet myth has been around for quite a while, alleging that the gold flakes were included to produce microspopic cuts in the drinkers through, thus speeding the alcohol into the blood. This is not true, since gold flakes are too soft to have sharp edges that would cut the throat. In fact, any kind of metal shards that were sharp enough cut would also get stuck in the throat, producing a choking and scratching sensation. There is actually very little gold in the product. Although first produced in Switzerland, it is an Italian product.
  • GrandGala: Italian VSOP Brandy base flavored with sweet Mediterranean oranges, but not an overly sweet liqueur.
  • Grand Mariner: Cognac flavored with orange. One of the most popular liqueurs around. It has not been produced as long as Curaçao or triple sec liqueurs, but has surpassed them in terms of general consumption, popularity, and brand recognition.
  • Hpnotiq: Vodka base flavored with fruit juices and a bit of Cognac.
  • Irish Mist: Irish Whiskey base flavored with honey and herbs. Claimed to be Ireland's first liqueur.
  • Jägermeister: Neutral based flavored with 56 fruits, herbs, spices, and roots; bittersweet and somewhat medicinal, it could go into the bitters category, but enjoyed in America as shots, and in cocktails.
  • Kahlúa: Neutral spirit flavored with coffee, originally produced in Mexico but now produced in many different places. Perhaps the most popular liqueur. See Homemade Kahlúa-like Coffee liqueur.
  • Kümmel: Vodka based flavored with caraway seeds.
  • Licor 43: Spanish sweet liqueur;
  • Limoncello: Italian; neutral or other base (flavored distillations) flavored with lemon zest, but no juice, so it is sweet and lemony with no bitterness. It's best kept in the freezer. Limoncellow is a generic designation.
  • Lochan Ora: Scotch whiskey flavored with honey and herbs.
  • Lilé Supreme: Rum base flavored with orange, lychee, mango, lime, goyavier and other fruits.
  • Malibu Rum: Rum flavored with coconut extract.
  • Mandarine Napoléon: French, as if you couldn't guess. Cognac based flavored with tangerine (mandarine orange) zest.
  • Maraschino: This liqueur has no relation to the jarred cherries that are also so common in bars. It is a neutral spirit flavored with the fruit and pits of the bitter marasca cherry. Luxardo is the most famous, and is aged for one hundred years. Luxardo also produces cherries, and was originally responsible for bringing jarred marasca cherries to the U.S., which were replaced by the abominations we know today. Do not mistake the juice from a jar of maraschino cherries as a substitute for Maraschino liqueur. You can still buy luxardo cherries.
  • Metaxa: Greece; Brandy and mixed Wine base, distilled, aged, and then flavored with herbs and rose leaves.
  • Midori: Neutral base flavored with honeydew melon (the first of its kind). Bright green colored and extremely sweet. Integral to the famous Melonball cocktail.
  • Nocello: Neutral base flavored with hazelnut and colored with caramel. Tastes similar to Frangelico, above.
  • Opal Nera: Black Sambuca (see Sambuca below); Neutral base flavored with anise, elder flower, and lemon peel
  • Orangecello: Similar to Limoncellow, above, except flavored with orange juice and orange zest.
  • Ouzo: flavored with anise and usually fennel; and Pistachia Lentiscus or "Mastic," a Pistachio relative from the island of Chios. Very strong and very dry.
  • Patron Citronage: Patron tequila base flavored with orange.
  • Patron XO Café: Patron tequila base flavored with Mexican coffee.
  • Pernod: Often called an "absinthe substitute, and falling under the "Pastis" category of Anise liqueurs. Neutral base flavored with star anise seed (substitute for anise), fennel, herbs like chamomile, coriander, and veronica, and other flavorings. Less licorice then the original absinthe and no wormwood.
  • Prunelle: Generally brandy-based flavored with sloe fruit ("sloeberries") (pale green color). See sloe gin for more about sloe fruits.
  • Rock and Rye: The old American favorite. Rye whiskey base flavored with hard rock candy (various fruit flavors) and fruit, although fruit doesn't always have to be used. Sometimes fruit is inside the bottle. There is also Rock and Bourbon, Rock and Rum, and //Rock and Brandy. Served by itself.
  • Rumple Minze: German peppermint Schnapps, 100 proof. It is sweet and very minty, but with a strong alcohol burn. Rumple Minze is a brand, but the peppermint schnapps is the most well-known and synonymous with the brand. They also produce a berry and a lime Schnapps.
  • Sabraa: Israel; Neutral base flavored with Jaffa oranges and bittersweet chocolate. It was originally made with the prickly pear fruit of the Sabra cactus, but this failed to catch on, so the cactus fruit was replaced with orange. There is a coffee version, as well.
  • Sambuca: Neutral base flavored with anise. Sambuca is a generic designation.
  • Schoenauer Apfel Schnapps: Neutral wheat and rye base flavored with apple juice from Atles Land with spice.
  • Sloe Gin: Traditionally a gin base flavored with sloe berries, but more often neutral base today.
  • St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur: Eua de vie base flavored with elder flower blossoms and sweetened with cane syrup, along with pear, grapefruit, and lychee.
  • Strega: Italy; Neutral spirit flavored with fruits (though distillation) and with over 70 herbs, including mint, and saffron, which gives it it's yellow color. Strega means witch. Sweet, herbal, and floral.
  • Southern Comfort: Neutral spirit flavored with peach, orange, cinnamon, herbs, and whiskey. Special Reserve contains actual Bourbon.
  • Tamarack Liqueur: Vermont; Kentucky bourbon base flavored with maple syrup an spices.
  • Tia Maria: Rum flavored with coffee, from Jamaica.
  • Triple Sec: Generic name for an orange liqueur that is distilled three times, less sweet and more tart than a Curaçao. Cointreau, above, is a triple sec that many suppose uses Curaçao oranges, since it was once called named Curaçao liqueur, and so it is often called a Curaçao instead of a triple sec, which is really a 6 of one, half dozen of the other, thing. It is very hard to know just what kind of orange peels are used, since the formula is secret, but for identification purposes, the term "triple sec" tells you it is much drier, and so may be a more important designation. Triple sec is French for "thrice dry."
  • Tuaca: Neutral base flavored with citrus and vanilla.
  • Vandermint: Holland; Neutral base flavored with chocolate and mint, the mint being the stronger of the two tastes. Dark brown chocolate color.
  • Vermeer Dutch Chocolate Cream Liqueur: Vodka base flavored with Dutch chocolate and cream. Invented by Maurice Kanbar, the inventor of SKYY vodka.
  • Zen: Neutral base flavored with green tea, from the creators of Midori melon liqueur, above.
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