Liqueurs have been instrumental in the ongoing renaissance of the cocktail. With few exceptions, they’re the essential components in most great cocktails and specialty drinks, making them franchise players in modern mixology. Their brilliant flavors and lush, satiny textured bodies render them capable of tempering the enthusiasm of high-octane spirits and transforming different ingredients into joy-inducing libations. Without a varied complement of liqueurs on store shelves, drink-making abilities shift into low gear.
The truth of the matter is that liqueurs are in style anytime, at any occasion and in any season. All self-respecting retailers need a complement of liqueurs and cordials at the ready if they are to be satisfy the wants of parched partygoers. Naturally, many of the largest sellers remain the competitively priced lines of cordials and liqueurs, including DeKuyper, Hiram Walker, Bols and Marie Brizard. For the most part, these brands keep adding new tastes and flavors to their extensive lineups throughout the year.
The adage that people buy on Saturday what they drink Friday night suggests a clear path how to increase retail liqueur sales. Consumers have taken to cocktails in a big way. Recreating their favorite concoctions at home for friends requires them venturing into your store for the ingredients’a few of which will assuredly be liqueurs.
So in the event that you missed the fanfare over their initial release, here’s the scoop on the hottest prospects of the past year or so.
Highly Anticipated Newcomers
One of the significant trends is the shift away from sweet liqueurs to those with more savory and herbal palates. An ideal example is Hum Botanical Liqueur. Created by celebrated mixologists Adam Seger of Chicago and Joel McCanta of London, the garnet-hued liqueur is made on a base of organic rums and flavored with ginger, green cardamom, kaffir lime and fair trade hibiscus. Hum, 70-proof, has a balanced, thoroughly engaging character with a spicy, savory and sweet palate and a touch of bitterness on the finish.
Another product new to the U.S. with an herbal palate is Becherovka Herbal Liqueur, a spirit well-known in the Czech Republic. It was originally created in 1807 by blending more than 20 herbs and spices with oils, alcohol and mineral-rich water. The 76-proof, golden amber liqueur is seen as an alternative to existing bitters.
The Nolet family’makers of all-world Ketel One Vodka’has been tinkering on the recipe for Harlem Kruiden Liqueur for 35 years. The black, highly aromatic liqueur features a blend of fruit, herbs, spice and a modicum of mandarin. It has a lightweight body and lavish bouquet of fresh citrus, sarsaparilla and mocha with warm earthy notes. The bitter herbal components perform in balance with its sweet and savory characteristics.
Dimmi Liquore di Milano is an ultra-suave liqueur from Milan made on a base of organic winter wheat spirits and a small amount of grappa di Nebbiolo. The spirits are infused with a century old family recipe of herbs and fruit, including assenzio gentile, anise, vanilla, rhubarb, ginseng and bitter orange. A second floral infusion of delicate peach and apricot blossoms adds a delightful aromatic component to the liqueur. Beet sugar is used for body and a touch of sweetness. The crystal clear liqueur has a marvelous herbal palate and a long, savory finish.
Another Italian liqueur new to the American market is Lemon Soprano, a creamy, citrusy gem best described as a drinkable lemon gelato. It has a cream base, a generous bouquet and a refreshing, slightly tart, slightly sweet finish. The liqueur is a dessert in a glass.
Introduced in just this year, John DeKuyper O3 Premium Orange is a vibrant, 80-proof liqueur made entirely from Brazilian Pera oranges with no artificial flavors or high fructose corn syrup. It has a silky body, a wafting citrus bouquet and a well-balanced zesty palate.
Handcrafted Thatcher’s Organic Artisan Liqueurs are made in Temperance, Michigan from all natural, USDA certified organic ingredients. They’re crafted in small batches from fruit and vegetables grown without the interference of chemicals or modern science. Thatcher’s sophisticated line of liqueurs include Cucumber, Elderflower, Yumberry, Blood Orange, Apple Spice Ginger, Pomegranate, Tres Chili, Dark Chocolate, Chipotle and Blueberry. They’re attractively packaged in lightweight clear glass bottles and feature labels made from recycled materials. Each expression retails for less than $25.
Travis Hasse’s Original Apple Pie Liqueur is also made Temperance, MI, using several varieties of apples, cinnamon, baking spices and premium neutral spirits distilled from locally sourced grain. The liqueur is bottled unfiltered and at a reasonable 40-proof. The liqueur has the golden color of honey and the look of freshly pressed cider. It’s generously aromatic and smells like an apple pie right out of the oven. Sampled neat the liqueur is moderately tangy and sweet with the long-lasting flavors of baked apples, cinnamon and nutmeg. Also brand also includes Travis Hasse’s Original Cherry Pie Liqueur.
Brainchild of master blender Thomas Maas, RumChata is crafted with a base of five-times distilled premium rum imported from the Caribbean and the same all natural products used to make traditional horchata, namely real dairy cream, rice, vanilla and cinnamon. The ingredients are homogenized to ensure they don’t separate and the flavors are fully integrated. The 27.5 proof liqueur has the look of horchata, a medium-weight body and a delicately scented bouquet.
In 2009, the Fair Trade Spirits Company launched FAIR, a line of ultra-premium liqueurs and spirits made in Cognac, France exclusively from fair trade certified ingredients. For example, certified organic FAIR CafÃ© Liqueurs is produced using fair trade high altitude coffee beans grown in the mountains of Huatusco, Mexico. The fair trade cane sugar is grown and harvested by a cooperative of 300 independent farmers in Malawi in Southern Africa. The full-bodied liqueur has an authentic, freshly roasted coffee character and an almond and hazelnut finish.
Easily the most exotic of the newcomers is Xolotl, a range of artisanal liqueurs made in Veracruz, Oaxaca, Mexico. Xolotl (pronounced sho-lo’tl) is handmade by micro-distiller JosÃ© Villanueva Barragan on a foundation of 20-year old barrel-aged rum. The coffee liqueur is made from shade-grown Arabica beans, the Xolotl LimÃµn Verde from fresh Veracruz limes. The range also includes Xolotl Almond Liqueur and Xolotl Anise Del Jaguar Liqueur.
Although new to the American market, Combier Liqueur d’Orange is a veritable fixture behind European bars. In addition to its brilliant and thoroughly engaging character, Combier is distinguished for being the original triple sec and the world’s oldest clear orange liqueur. It’s made from a blend of sun-dried sweet and bitter orange peels from the French West Indies, sugar beets from Normandy and all natural ingredients from the surrounding Loire Valley. The liqueur is triple-distilled in La Distillerie Combier’s original, 175-year-old copper alembic stills designed by Gustav Eiffel. It’s bottled at 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof).
The famed La Distillerie Combier also produces Royal Combier Grande Liqueur, a liqueur made from a blend of Combier Liqueur d’Orange, cognac and Elixir de Combier, a renown hygienic liqueur dating back to the 19th century comprised of aloe, cardamom, cinnamon, myrrh, nutmeg and saffron. Combier Roi RenÃ© Rouge Liqueur is pot-distilled from a 100% natural blend of fresh elderberry juice and three varieties of sweet and bitter cherries.
Cocktail enthusiasts are embracing Austrian Rothman & Winter CrÃ¨me de Violette, 44-proof, an elixir handmade from fine grape spirits macerated with wild Alpine violet petals. Like maraschino, it was once a mainstay behind American bars and a required ingredient in many venerated classics. CrÃ¨me de Violette is a delicate, slightly sweet and violet-hued. It’s a featured member of the Haus Alpenz portfolio, a collection of vintage, long-absent specialties, such as St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram from the West Indies, Batavia-Arrack from Indonesia and Velvet Falernum, an infusion of lime juice, spices, and Barbadian rum are essential to recreating such classics as the original Mai Tai, Zombie, and Vicious Virgin.
Another product well suited for use in cocktails is Coffee Heering Liqueur from Denmark. Made from an 1818 recipe developed as a line extension to the original Cherry Heering, the all-natural 70-proof liqueur is produced with coffee and cacao beans and Caribbean rum.
HPNOTIQ is the country’s fifth-largest-selling imported liqueur. Joining the aquamarine-hued liqueur this summer is HPNOTIQ Harmonie, an infusion of French Vodka, berries, flowers and Cognac crafted in the tradition of Pineau de Charentes. Its vibrant color stems from the use of violets and lavender in the blend. The versatile liqueur is light-bodied and aromatic with a lingering fruit and brandy finish
The cocktail renaissance has spawned a new generation of contemporary classics. These liqueurs have found their niche and are considered indispensable when crafting fine libations. Here’s a quick recap of these modern marvels.
‘¢ Agavero ‘ The liqueur is a blend of barrel-aged tequilas sweetened with the essence of Damiana, a wild flower indigenous to the highlands of Jalisco renown for its brilliant fragrance and aphrodisiac properties. The sultry import has a spicy floral bouquet, and a semisweet, herbal palate. The brand recently debuted Agavero Orange, blending silver tequila, agave nectar and Mexican orange flavor.
‘¢ AlizÃ© ‘ AlizÃ© Gold, the original version, now features the delectable combination of passion fruit juice and French vodka. The other four versions in the portfolio, all with a French vodka base, include AlizÃ© Red Passion, an exotic blend of passion fruit juice, cranberry and a hint of peach; AlizÃ© Wild Passion, a blend of passion fruit and mangoes; AlizÃ© Bleu Passion, featuring the tastes of passion fruit, ginger and cherries; and AlizÃ© Rose Passion, with a blend of passion fruit, strawberries and lychee.
‘¢ Aperol ‘ Originated in 1919 in Padova, Italy, the aperitif from Padua, Italy is infused with a blend of bitter orange peels, gentian, rhubarb and cinchona and various other herbs and botanicals. It’s lightweight and generously aromatic. The aperitif has prominent citrus and herbal flavors that gradually fade into a slightly floral, spicy and bittersweet orange finish. Its delicate bitterness and dry citrus components make it a natural modifier in cocktails.
‘¢ Cointreau Noir ‘ The 80-proof liqueur is a blend of Cointreau and Remy Martin Cognac. Cointreau Noir has an amber hue, a lightweight body and a vanilla and fresh citrus bouquet. It’s precisely balanced that the spicy wood flavors of the Cognac and vibrant orange notes of the Cointreau are enjoyed simultaneously.
‘¢ Coole Swan ‘ This super-premium Irish liqueur is comprised of fresh double cream, Madagascan vanilla, white and dark chocolate, organic dark cocoa and Irish single malt whiskey. It has a velvety textured body, aromas of vanilla and dark chocolate and a long-lasting complement of rich creamy flavors. The liqueur has nearly unlimited drink making applications.
‘¢ Domaine de Canton Ginger ‘ This French, ginger-laced liqueur is made on a base of eaux de vie and VSOP and XO Cognacs, which is macerated with baby Vietnamese ginger, Tahitian vanilla, honey and ginseng. The remainder of its ingredients is a closely held secret. The 56-proof liqueur adds delectably warm and spicy ginger notes to a wide range of cocktails from Mojitos to Sidecars.
‘¢ Extase XO ‘ Produced by cognac maker A. Hardy and one of France’s premier liqueur producers, Lejay Lagoute, Extase XO is a light-bodied liqueur made with orange peels from CuraÃ§ao and a base of Hardy X.O. Fine Champagne Cognac, an assemblage of Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne brandies with an average age of 25 years. Extase XO is highly aromatic for a liqueur, endowed with an alluring bouquet of mixed citrus.
‘¢ Godiva Chocolate Liqueur ‘ An American chocolate liqueur, Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, 34-proof, has expanded its line and now includes Godiva Chocolate Milk Liqueur, Godiva Cappuccino Liqueur and Godiva White Chocolate.
‘¢ GranGala Triple Orange ‘ Made at the Stock Distillery in Trieste, Italy, GranGala is a blend of oranges from Sicily and mature, barrel-aged VSOP brandy. The 80-proof liqueur is then aged further to ensure that the various constituent elements have fully integrated.
‘¢ Hpnotiq ‘ The aquamarine liqueur is made in France from a blend of triple-distilled vodka, cognacs from the Petite Champagne, Fins Bois and Borderies regions and a proprietary mix of natural tropical juices. While as versatile as a liqueur, the product is more like a skillfully crafted cocktail in a cork-finished bottle.
‘¢ Luxardo Maraschino ‘ Luxardo Maraschino is an Italian liqueur distilled from Marasca cherries, honey and cherry pits. Although a frequently used ingredient in early cocktail recipes, its resurgent popularity can largely be attributed to the rebirth of the Aviation, a classic gin-based cocktail that calls for maraschino.
‘¢ Mandarine Napoleon ‘ The liqueur is made at the Fourcroy Distillery in Brussels from Sicilian tangerines and the sun-drenched coast of Spain near Valencia, the peels of which are macerated in fine spirits for weeks to fully capture their essence. That oil-infused alcohol is distilled three times with a secret mix of 27 herbs, spices and botanicals before being aged in French oak barrels for 2 years. The spirits are blended with well-aged cognac, filtered and bottled at 40% alcohol by volume.
‘¢ Plymouth Sloe Gin ‘ The Black Friars Distillery in Plymouth, England, resurrected its traditional sloe gin. Made by macerating Plymouth Gin with fresh sloe berries and a touch of sugar, the 52-proof ruby red liqueur has a generous bouquet of plums and raspberries and a lingering pleasantly tart finish of honey and berries. It’s indispensable in such cocktails as Trader Vic’s Singapore Sling and the Sloe Gin Fizz.
‘¢ Solerno Blood Orange ‘ This ultra-premium liqueur from Sicily has the look of blood oranges, a full, lushly textured body and a bittersweet citrus and spice palate. The 80-proof liqueur is vibrant enough to act as the base of a cocktail or serve as a modifier.
‘¢ St-Germain ‘ St-Germain, 40-proof, is liqueur made in the foothills of the French Alps from wild elderflower blossoms. It has the pronounced aromas of tart citrus, pears and honey and a floral palate featuring layers of mango, rock candy and tangy grapefruit. Because St-Germain is light-bodied and well balanced, it’s a natural mixed with aromatic spirits’such as gin, tequila, rum and pisco’as well as Champagne and brandies.
‘¢ Ty Ku ‘ Ty Ku is purportedly loaded with healthful benefits. The Chinese liqueur is made from shoshu and junmai-ginjo sake infused with a blend of 20+ Asian super-fruits, aphrodisiacs and oolong and green teas. It has a refined citrus and spice palate tailor-made for drink-making. That 40-proof Ty Ku is loaded with antioxidants is a bonus.
‘¢ XantÃ© ‘ This Swedish liqueur is made with sweet Belgian pears and a blend of well-aged cognacs. The brandies were sourced from select distillers and aged for a minimum of 4 years in Limousine oak. The 76-proof liqueur has a long, fruit-laced finish.
‘¢ Zen Green Tea ‘ Produced in Kyoto Japan, Zen is the first liqueur of its type. It is crafted from a blend of fresh green tea leaves, both whole and ground and a proprietary mix of botanicals that includes exotic herbs, lemongrass and spices. Zen is 40 proof.
Liqueurs date back more than 400 years ago. At first the process was no more complicated than steeping spirits in a mash of fruit. Honey was often used as a sweetener to negate the biting edge of the alcohol. Gradually as the art of distillation became more precise, so did the methods used to make liqueurs.
All world-class liqueurs have a story behind them, points of distinction years ‘ sometimes generations ‘I n the making. Here’s a quick who’s who.
‘¢ Averna Amaro ‘ Produced since 1868 by Fratelli Averna of Caltanissetta, Sicily, Averna Amaro is made according to a closely guarded recipe originated by the friars at nearby Convent of St. Spirito Abbey. It’s produced by macerating grape spirits with an all-natural array of flowers, roots, herbs, spices and dried citrus rinds. The herbal liqueur, 64 proof, is renown for its delectably bitter flavor and prowess as a digestive and restorative. It introduced new packaging recently.
‘¢ Baileys Original Irish Cream ‘ An instant success upon its 1979 introduction, Baileys is now the best-selling liqueur in the world. Made in Dublin, the liqueur is produced from fresh dairy cream infused with aged, triple distilled Irish whiskey and natural vanilla and chocolate flavorings. It is homogenized, pasteurized and bottled at 34 proof.
‘¢ Benedictine ‘ The grande dame of monastery liqueur has been produced at the Benedictine abbey in Fecamp, France since 1510. It is made from a secret recipe of 27 fragrant herbs, spices, plants, tea and fruits, each distilled individually and matured in oak barrels for 3 months before blending. The 80-proof liqueur is made on a base of aged cognac and rested in oak casks.
‘¢ Campari ‘ The Italian apÃ©ritif is still produced according to the original 1860 recipe created by Gaspare Campari in Novara, Italy. Campari is an infusion of 60 different herbs, spices, gentian and orris root, angostura and cascarilla bark, aromatic botanicals and fruit’primarily lemons and bitter oranges’and alcohol. Its trademark deep red hue was originally obtained using carmine dye, which is derived from cochineal insects. In 2006, the extract was replaced with an alternative coloring. The brand has been creating excitement recently, promoting itself as an ingredient in the Negroni.
‘¢ Cointreau ‘ The brand was created in 1849 by Frenchman Edouard Cointreau, in Angers in the Loire Valley. Cointreau is crafted from a complex blend of sweet orange peels from Spain, France, and Brazil. They are then combined with bitter, unripe orange peels from South America. The peels are macerated in alcohol, and when the infusions have reached their peak flavor, they are double-distilled in copper alembic stills. The distillery has nineteen stills, each of which were designed specifically to produce this liqueur.
‘¢ Disaronno Originale Amaretto ‘ One of grand dames of liqueurs, Disaronno Amaretto originated in Saronno, Italy in 1525. Its proprietary recipe calls for premium Italian grape spirits and 17 herbs and fruits, including apricot kernel oil. Once fully infused with flavor, the liqueur is sweetened with caramelized sugar and bottled at 56 proof.
‘¢ Drambuie ‘ Ultra-premium Drambuie is made in Edinburgh, Scotland, from a base of single Highland malt and straight grain whiskies. The blend is then infused with a measured dose of spice, herbs and heather honey and bottled at 80 proof. Drambuie has an amber hue, satiny textured body and a bouquet laced with the prominent aromas of anise, dried herbs and subtle notes of peat.
‘¢ Frangelico ‘ Introduced in the early 1980s, Frangelico is a 48-proof liqueur made with a base of Italian grape spirits, which are steeped with the natural extracts, including hazelnuts, cocoa, coffee, vanilla, rhubarb and orange blossoms.
‘¢ Grand Marnier ‘ Ranked among the world’s finest liqueurs, Grand Marnier is made in Neauphle-le-ChÃ¢teau, France exactly as it was over 120 years ago. Orange peels are first slowly macerated in cognac. The infused-spirit is redistilled, blended with the premiere cognacs from each of the growing regions and sweetened with sugar syrup. The liqueur is then barrel-aged at the Marnier-Lapostolle cognac cellars. (80 proof)
‘¢ Grand Marnier Cuvee de Cent Cinquantenaire ‘Introduced to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Marnier-Lapostolle, the liqueur features a blend of exceptionally old, Grande Champagne cognacs ranging in age up to 50 years. The liqueur is then aged 2 more years in Limousin oak barrels in the Marnier-Lapostolle cellars. (80 proof)
‘¢ Grand Marnier Quintessence ‘ Just announced, Quintessence is a blend of double distilled orange (vs. single distillation in the other marques) and very old cognacs. All of the lots of cognacs for this marque come exclusively from Grand Champagne, with more than 20 different lots included in the blend, with some dating back to 1906. Grand Marnier Quintessence will be available nationally beginning in September at a suggested retail price of $700 per bottle.
‘¢ Irish Mist ‘Produced under the supervision of the Irish government, the 80-proof liqueur is made with barrel-aged whiskey, heather honey and a medley of spices.
‘¢ JÃ¤germeister ‘ The herbal liqueur was first bottled and widely marketed in 1935, just prior to the beginning of World War II. JÃ¤germeister is comprised of a sophisticated blend of 56 roots, herbs and spices from around the world, including gentian roots, valerian, poppy seeds, ginseng and chamomile blossoms. The various botanicals are individually macerated and then filtered and matured in charred oak barrels for a minimum of one year prior to blending.
‘¢ KahlÃºa ‘ KahlÃºa has been made in Mexico for nearly a century and was first imported into the United States after the repeal of prohibition. The 53-proof liqueur is made from a base of continuous-distilled sugar cane and is steeped with vanilla and mountain-grown Mexican coffee. The range now includes KahlÃºa French Vanilla, KahlÃºa Hazelnut, KahlÃºa Peppermint Mocha, KahlÃºa Especial and KahlÃºa Mocha.
‘¢ PatrÃ³n XO CafÃ© ‘ Imported by the company that brings you PatrÃ³n 100% Blue Agave Tequila, XO CafÃ© is made in Mexico from 100% agave tequila and pure, natural essence of coffee. The 70-proof liqueur is crafted with a minimal amount of sweetener, which makes it drier and more of a coffee-flavored tequila than a typical liqueur.
‘¢ Midori ‘A Japanese liqueur produced by Suntory that is made from a base of neutral spirits and proprietary honeydew melon flavors. Midori is bottled at 42 proof.
‘¢ Royale Chambord Liqueur de France ‘ Now 25 years after its debut, Chambord is crafted in the Loire Valley on a base of premium grape spirits that is infused with a mixture of fresh small black raspberries, herbs and other fruits. Chambord mixes with just about everything associated with summer. Make raspberry lemonades, iced teas or margaritas. It’s often promoted in martinis, iced coffees and raspberry daiquiris. In the hands of the inspired, Chambord has no creative limitations.
‘¢ Southern Comfort ‘ An American liqueur produced since 1874 from a base of grain neutral spirits and flavored with peach liqueur, fresh peach and citrus extracts. Southern Comfort is bottled at 70 and 100 proofs. In the summer of 2010, the brand launched Southern Comfort Lime. A line extension introduced last year features lime flavor and is bottled at 55 proof. A new pepper flavor is slated to soon be released.
‘¢ Tuaca ‘ The formula for the liqueur is believed to have originated sometime during the Italian Renaissance in the 16th Century. Tuaca is to this day made according to the original formula. However, the exact processes employed’according to the company’remain a closely guarded secret. It’s comprised of vanilla, herbs, spices, citrus essence and sugar blended on a foundation of fine, barrel-aged Italian brandy. The brandies selected by the master distiller range in age between 3 to 10 years. The 100% natural liqueur is bottled at 35% alcohol by volume (70 proof).