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 the backbar, 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 bars — commercial or otherwise — need a complement of liqueurs and cordials at the ready if they are to satisfy the wants of parched partygoers.
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. The 70 proof Hum has a balanced, thoroughly engaging character with a spicy, savory and sweet palate and a touch of bitterness on the finish.
The Nolet family — makers of all-world Ketel One Vodka — has been tinkering with 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.
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. They 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 Café 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 José Villanueva Barragan on a foundation of 20-year old barrel-aged rum. The coffee liqueur is made from shade-grown Arabica beans, the Xolotl Limõn 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 René Rouge Liqueur is pot-distilled from a 100% natural blend of fresh elderberry juice and three varieties of sweet and bitter cherries.
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.
Introduced in 2011, 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.
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.