Cocktail How - To Liquor or Liqueur

Liquor or liqueur. What is the difference?

The question seems simple enough and, in fact, there is a relatively simple answer…. sugar.

Both liquor and liqueur contain alcohol. Liquor is a distilled spirit made from a fermented mash of either grains, vegetables or fruits and is not sweet. Gin, vodka, tequila, rum and brandy are examples of liquor.

A liqueur begins with a base spirit such as brandy or rum, is sweetened with sugar, honey, syrup or beet and often infused with fruits, herbs, spices, flowers, seeds, and even roots and barks for flavor. Liqueurs generally have short aging periods (ie, they’re ready to drink quite quickly), but may have resting periods during their production to allow flavors to blend. Examples of liqueurs are Chambord, Grand Marnier, Amaretto, creme de menthe, triple sec and Frangelico.

Points of interest:

  • Liqueurs are generally thought to be descendants of herbal medicines often made by monks as early as the 13th century (Chartreuse, Benedictine). However, as early as 800 BC the Chinese were using crude distillation methods to produce fortified spirits from fermented rice wine, and Egyptians and Greeks were distilling grape wine in 400 BC that they sweetened with honey. So it’s more likely that the brothers of yore simply introduced the art to Europe.
  • In the USA, liqueur is generally pronounced lick-coor. Elsewhere the pronunciation is lik-yur.
  • Liqueurs must contain at least 2.5% sugar by weight, though some have thirty five percent or more, to distinguish them from spirits. Creme liqueurs must have 40% sugar content.
  • The term creme, when applied to a liqueur, refers to one flavor, not to any milk product. For instance, creme de menthe is flavored only with mint, creme de cacao with chocolate bean.
  • Liqueurs may also contain dairy products, in which case they become cream liqueurs (not creme).
  • Most liqueurs have a lower alcohol content than liquor, though that is not always the case.
  • The term cordial is generally synonymous with the word liqueur although in Europe cordial can also refer to a sweet, non-alcoholic syrup such as Rose’s lime juice cordial. Another, little-used term is ratafia.

Of course, we have to have a slight complication to throw in to the mix. Now-a-days there are many flavored liquors: vanilla vodka, saffron gin, for instance. These are not sweetened and the flavor is generally added by a steeping process after distillation.

OK, now you have all the information you need to confidently distinguish between a liquor or liqueur. So go out and use it.

Pick up some more hints – watch the video.


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