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There are many different liqueurs on the market in most places, and they can be divided into types in two main ways. Some people classify them primarily by manufacturer, and in these cases liqueurs are typically categorized as either proprietary or generic, depending on their branding and the specifics of their manufacturing. It’s also common to distinguish types based on flavor profile. Some of the most common tastes are coffee, nuts, chocolate, fruit, and berries. Liqueurs in all categories are usually made through a similar process, though the quality of ingredients used and intensity of the distillation process can lead to a great variety in taste and overall smoothness. Regardless of specifics, all tend to be enjoyed in about the same way, too. Most of the choice between types is a matter of personal preference.
A liqueur, sometimes also called a cordial, is a sweet, flavored alcohol that is distilled to achieve its unique flavor. Generally, liqueur is divided into two categories: generics and proprietaries. Generics are the liqueurs that almost any manufacturer can make, such as crème de menthe. These have a standard taste profile and are often sold by their flavor name rather than any specific brand or created name. Many manufacturers and distillers can make these blends.
Things are different when it comes to proprietary liqueurs. These are named based on unique brands or identifiers, such as Kahlua and Grand Marnier. The names of these drinks are only used for one particular blend. Any other use is generally a trademark or other intellectual property violation.
Another approach is to divide liqueurs based on what they taste like. Most blends are flavored within a few major categories, and these distinctions can be used to help people pair the drinks with specific desserts and dishes, and can also be useful when blending the cordials into other more complicated cocktails. Some of the most common types are coffee; nuts, including hazelnut and almond; chocolate; fruit; and berries. Herbal concoctions and things like tea-flavored liqueurs are also common in many places.
No matter what type it falls into, all liqueurs are usually about the same when it comes to the basics of their ingredient profiles. The tastes and even textures can be different depending on manufacturer choices, but they all usually start the same way. Each is generally a blend of two or more ingredients, which typically includes an alcohol base, a sweetener, and sometimes herbs. A flower, fruit or other flavoring may also be added. Cream liqueurs also usually have dairy cream added.
Different manufacturers of the same flavors of generic cordials can and often do make products that can taste very different from each other. This may be due to the base alcohol used, how long the mixture rested to allow the flavors to mix, the process of distillation used, and how closely standards are followed. Most liqueurs have high alcohol content per volume, often as high as 50%, which is much higher than most standard wine, beer, and other spirits.
Understanding the Distillation Process
The distillation process, also sometimes known as redistillation, is the key to the taste of liqueur. Distillation involves processing a liquid, usually by boiling it for a sustained time at high temperatures. The steam that is created passes through cooling tubes and becomes a liquid, which is captured in bottles. Differences in distillation are responsible for different strengths and even different colors in the final product.
How They’re Consumed
Liqueur is often requested as an after-dinner drink, sometimes taking the place of dessert. The drink may also be enjoyed as an appetizer, or aperitif, served before a meal. It may be served in a variety of methods, similar to serving any cocktail: neat, on the rocks, or straight up. A drink that is shaken with ice and then strained into a chilled glass is served “straight up.” A single, unmixed drink poured into a glass without adding any water, mixer or ice is served “neat.” Requesting a drink “on the rocks” simply means “over ice.”