When people hear about liqueurs, they might think it’s some fancy spelling (or misspelling) of liquor. However, they’re actually their own special category of spirits. In fact, most people are surprised at just how complex these kinds of drinks are…
Liqueurs: How They Differ from Liquor
What are they?
The idea behind liqueurs is pretty simple. The basic explanation is that they are a liquor which has been given some added flavor and sweetening. Think of them as similar to a soda. However, due to these additives (mainly sugar), their shelf life isn’t as long as liquors.
Some people also might call these kinds of drinks “cordials” instead of liqueurs. However, they are interchangeable terms. The only exception to this is in the United Kingdom. Over there, cordials can also refer to a sweet, non-alcoholic drink.
Liqueurs have been around for quite a long time. Historians trace their origins back to old herbal medicines which began showing up in Europe during the Middle Ages. Eventually, these began to make their way into Italy and France. However, the modern idea of the drink came about in the Netherlands in 1575, where Dutch distillers started the first major commercially-viable brand.
In early America in particular, these drinks were popular recipes among households. In fact, recipe books had both recreational and medicinal recipes, usually for digestive aid after a meal. Still, it wouldn’t be until the 19th century when they began popping up at bars.
The production process
Liqueurs can come in a wide variety of different flavors. However, in the U.S., any flavored spirit with at least 1.5% sugar weight or dextrose added to it is considered a liqueur. As a result, the way distillers make them is pretty much the same. First, they start with a base spirit, which can be any kind of liquor. Then, they begin to change it into the final drink.
Distillers have two techniques they can use here. The first is to just let the fruits, nuts, herbs, etc. soak in the liquor. The second method is similar, but uses heat to help improve and speed up the process. After this, the distillers add some extra sugar and the let the drink sit as the flavors start to fuse together into the final product.