So what is a liqueur anyway, man?
A liqueur is a sweetened spirit that can be flavored with a huge variety of ingredients like fruit, herbs, nuts, barks, you name it!
Some of the most popular liqueurs (e.g. Chartreuse, Benedictine) that have stood the test of time date back hundreds of years and were produced and used by monks for medicinal purposes.
It is important to note that fruit liqueur is not the same as fruit liquor. Liquor is the same as spirits, or hard booze (gin, rum, vodka, etc).
What are liqueurs used for tho?
While many liqueurs are enjoyable just as they are or perhaps over some ice even, more often than not, they serve as a crucial part of many of the world’s most popular cocktails.
Liqueurs have a crucial function in many cocktail recipes as a flavoring agent that can also help increase or preserve a drink’s ABV (alcohol by volume aka booziness).
For example, in a classic Margarita, the balance of the drink hinges on the sweetness and citrusy complexity of say Cointreau or Gran Mariner, to counteract the fresh zip of tart lime juice.
It’s these two in harmony that are then rounded off by the strong, and vegetal agave flavors of a good tequila.
This dance between sour citrus, sweet liqueur, and strong spirit is what makes up an entire category of classic cocktails known as the “Daisy”.
Okay, so how do I make some liqueur of my own?
I’m so glad you asked!
Making liqueur is actually very simple if you follow this basic rubric.
Part 1: The Base Spirit
Every liqueur will start with a base spirit. This will provide your ABV and be the starting point for the rest of your flavors to latch on to.
Often times vodka is a smart choice as its very subtle flavor can be a perfect blank canvas for which to paint your boozy masterpiece.
However, using other spirits such as funky rums, or even gin (which is essentially a flavored vodka), can have a time and place depending on the desired end result.
For instance, for a banana liqueur one might opt for a Rhum Agricole, which is distilled from pressed sugar cane juice, in order to enhance flavors of tropical jungle funk that a mere vodka would not have. Or perhaps a floral gin as a basis for some homemade crème de violette.
Part 2: The Sweetener
Using different base liquors isn’t the only way to give a specific character to your liqueur.
Your choice of sweetener can also have a major play in the final flavor profile.
There are many different sweeteners to choose from but some of the most common include:
White or Cane sugar. The vodka of sweetener. This has the most basic flavor profile and will provide the desired sweetness without adding too much of its own character to the mix.
Demerara or Turbinado Sugar are two darker, minimally refined types of sugar. Demerara can have a molasses-like flavor while Turbinado will have a lighter, more delicate flavor like caramel or honey.
Molasses or Brown Sugar. Molasses is a by-product of sugar production and has a deep, rich flavor. Light or Dark Brown sugar is simply cane sugar with added levels of molasses.
Coconut or Palm sugar, Honey, Maple, and Agave. All of these sweeteners (and more) are derived from different natural and regional sources and can vary in flavor profile greatly. These are some of my absolute favorite ways of adding character to cocktails. Choosing the correct one for the task is often as using simple as the old “If it grows together, it goes together” method of flavor pairing. For example; using agave nectar as the sweetener in a tequila-based cocktail makes perfect sense when you consider that both ingredients are derived from the same plant.
Part 3: Flavoring Agents
When it comes to creating a unique liqueur, this is where the magic really happens.
A flavoring agent can really be anything thing at all. Really, your imagination is the only thing limiting what you can do here.
Most liqueur will be some combination of fruits, herbs, and/or spices.
This combo could be broken down into primary and secondary flavors.
Think of your liqueur as your favorite band.
If the base spirit and sweetener are your drums and bass, the primary flavoring agent is your lead singer, and the secondary flavors are your backup singers, guitar, and keyboard. All of these elements come together to create something that’s more than the sum of its parts.
Now take these guidelines and go make something beautiful and unique!
Best of luck,
Very Good Drinks
- 1 c Coconut Sugar
- 1 c Cane Sugar
- 2 c water
- 1.5 c Gin or Vodka
- 0.5 c Bacardi Dark Rum
- 1 Medium Pineapple (cubed)
- Whole Spice Blend 6 teaspoons
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Combine all ingredients in a food safe container
- Allow to infuse for up to 1 week
- Strain with a fine mesh strainer
- Bottle and enjoy
Be sure to taste periodically! Remove dried spices at your desired level of bitterness.