What Is Liqueur and How Is It Different From Liquor?

Liqueur Bottles

What is liqueur? It's an alcoholic product that is usually reasonably strong and slightly sweet. Liqueurs may be the featured ingredient in cocktails, or they may exist alongside other, stronger liquors and mixers to make sweetly satisfying mixed drinks.

What Is Liqueur?

Liqueur, also known as cordial, is a moderately strong alcoholic ingredient that is also sweet and flavored. Liqueurs are often used in place of or alongside simple syrups to add the sweet element to cocktails such as sours or smashes. For example, the Italian almond-flavored cocktail ingredient, amaretto, is a liquer that's used in a number of mixed drinks including the amaretto sour. Likewise, the orange-flavored liqueur, triple sec, is used as the sweet ingredient in the classic tequila sour known as a margarita.

What's the Difference Between Liquor and Liqueur?

Liquor is a hard spirit distilled from fruit (wine) or grain (beer). Liqueur is made from mixing a liquor with other ingredients to flavor and sweeten it. This handy chart shows you the difference between liquor and liqueur.

Difference Between Liquor and Liqueur

Types of Liqueur and Liqueur Brands

There are a number of different types of liqueurs, as well as many brands well-known for their cordials. The following are some of the most widely-known categories of liqueurs.

Curaçao and Triple Sec

Curaçao and triple sec are both orange-flavored liqueurs. The flavors, aromas, and uses for each are similar, and they are often used interchangeably in cocktails. In general, triple sec is slightly less sweet than curaçao (the word sec means dry). Often, curaçao has coloring added, such as blue or green, to impart a vivid color to drinks made with them, such as a Blue Hawaiian. It should be noted the color doesn't affect the flavor in curaçao; it's always orange-flavored regardless of its hue. Some brands of triple sec, curaçao, and orange-flavored liqueurs include the following:

  • Grand Marnier - an amber-colored, high-end French liqueur that is an orange-flavored blend of triple sec and Cognac
  • Cointreau - a colorless, high-end French triple sec
  • Bols - a colorless, affordable American triple sec

Coffee-Flavored Liqueur

Coffee-flavored liqueurs are a popular addition to cocktails such as the black Russian. They are sweet and viscous with a recognizable java flavor and aroma. Some well-known brands of coffee-flavored liqueur include:

  • Kahlúa - a Mexican coffee liqueur made from rum, sugar, and arabica coffee
  • Tia Maria - a Jamaican coffee liqueur made from rum, sugar, and Jamaican coffee beans
  • Kapali - a sweet, affordable Mexican coffee-flavored liqueur
Hands Doing Shots

Amaretto

Amaretto is a bitter almond-flavored liqueur that is Italian in origin. It's popular in drinks such as the amaretto sour and the amaretto smash. Top brands of amaretto include:

  • Disaronno - an Italian amaretto
  • DeKyuper - amaretto from the Netherlands
  • Lazzaroni - Italian amaretto

Nut Flavored and Herbal Liqueur

There are also a number of other nut-flavored and herbal flavored liqueurs that are well known. Some top brands of nut-flavored and/or herbal liqueurs include the following:

  • Frangelico - an Italian blend of hazelnut and herbal flavors
  • Galliano - an Italian vanilla and herbal flavored liqueur
  • Strega - an Italian anise and herbal flavored liqueur often used as a digestif
  • Bénédictine - a French herb and spice flavored liqueur
  • Jägermeister - anise and herb flavored liqueur
Frangelico Liqueur

Schnapps

Schnapps is a liqueur made by combining a base spirit, sweetener, and flavoring. There are a number of flavors of schnapps including:

  • apple
  • peach
  • root beer
  • peppermint
  • butterscotch
  • cinnamon
  • other fruits
  • berry

Brand of schnapps include:

  • Hiram Walker - an American alcohol brand making an array of schnapps flavors including peppermint
  • DeKyuper - schnapps from the Netherlands in various flavors including peach
  • Goldschläger - Swiss cinnamon schnapps with flecks of food-grade gold in it

Crème

Some liqueurs are called crème de __________. While the name may seem misleading, crème liqueurs don't have cream in them nor are they creamy in texture. Some crème liqueur flavors include:

  • Crème de menthe - a green or clear mint-flavored cordial found in the stinger and the grasshopper cocktails
  • Crème de violette - a purple colored violet-flavored liqueur used in the classic American cocktail, the aviation cocktail
  • Crème de cacao - clear or brown-colored liqueur with chocolate flavors found in the brandy Alexander
  • Crème de cassis - a blackcurrant flavored liqueur used in the classic Champagne cocktail, the kir royale

Brands include:

  • Drillaud - a French brand that makes a number of flavors
  • Tempus Fugit - a high-end Swiss brand making different flavors including crème de banane (banana) and crème de cacao
Fresh cocktail with mint liqueur

Cream Liqueur

Not to be mistaken for crèmes, cream liqueurs have a creamy element, usually from dairy but in some cases from another ingredient. Top brands of cream liqueurs include:

  • Baileys - maker of Irish cream liqueurs
  • RumChata - Mexican cream liqueur
  • Amarula - makes fruit cream liqueurs
  • Godiva - makes chocolate cream liqueurs
Baileys in glasses

Apéritif Liqueur

Apéritifs (or in Italian, aperitivos) are typically bitter flavored, low-sugar beverages consumed before meals to stimulate the appetite. There are several liqueurs that are commonly used in apéritif cocktails including the following:

  • Campari - a sunset-colored bitter Italian liqueur
  • Pernod - a colorless anise flavored French liqueur
  • Aperol - a bright orange-colored Italian bitter herb, rhubarb, and orange liqueur
  • Cynar - an Italian bitter herb liqueur
  • Prado - a French Pastis (which is an anise-flavored liqueur)
Aperol drinks on display during Aperitivo

Other Liqueurs

There are a number of other liqueurs with various sweet flavors as well. Some well-known examples include:

  • Chambord - a French raspberry flavored liqueur
  • St-Germain - elderflower liqueur
  • Luxardo - makes a number of liqueurs but is best known for its maraschino liqueur

How to Use Liqueur in Cocktails

A good mixed drink contains a balanced combination of flavors including sweet, sour, and strong. Liqueurs are often used in place of or alongside simple syrup as the sweet element in a drink. And while a liqueur can be the primary cocktail ingredient, many traditional cocktails use liqueurs for additional sweetness and flavor. When using liqueur as a sweetening element, the ratio of liqueur to a sour ingredient (lemon juice, lime juice, etc) to hard liqueur is 1:1:2. In a traditional cocktail, this is usually as follows:

  • ¾ ounce liqueur
  • ¾ ounce citrus juice or sour element
  • 1½ ounces liquor

For example, in a classic margarita, this combination would be as follows:

  • ¾ ounce triple sec
  • ¾ ounce lime juice
  • 1½ ounces tequila

How to Mix Liqueur Into Drinks

When you mix liqueur, do you stir or shake? It depends on what you're mixing it with.

  • Shake in a cocktail shaker when mixing with any type of fruit juice
  • Stir when mixing it with liquor, wine, simple syrup, other liqueurs, dairy or creamy ingredients, hot beverages, and carbonated mixers

How to Drink Liqueurs

Liqueurs are delicious when sipped by themselves either neat or on the rocks, they make a tasty and simple cocktail when blended with soda water or carbonated water and served over ice, or they're delicious blended with mixers and liquors to make cocktails. With so many to choose from at a variety of price points and with varying flavors, cordials are a versatile ingredient to make a wide array of classic and craft cocktails.

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What Is Liqueur and How Is It Different From Liquor?