Liquor Vs. Liqueur
In past years, the differences between a liquor and a liqueur were easily separated. Vodka, gin, whisky, rum were all liquors, whereas chartreuse, kahlua, benedictine, baileys and schnapps were all liqueurs.
Today, with many of the traditional spirits such as vodka being flavored, it has become rather difficult for many to distinguish between the two. The rule of thumb to separate the two is that liqueurs are sweet and syrupy for the most part, whereas liquors are not. In addition, liqueurs usually have a much lower alcohol content, often between 15-30% ABV. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.
One of the biggest benefits of liqueurs is how versatile they are. Like many spirits, liqueurs can be used in mixed drinks, served neat, over ice, with coffee or mixed with other non-alcoholic beverages such as cream or milk. Many can be used for cooking or in baking and certain liqueurs have even become the major highlight of many desserts.
One thing that’s become very popular is layering liqueurs to create neat striped drinks. We do this by floating the various liqueurs slowly over the back of a spoon which ensures the various liqueurs don’t mix. I would strongly urge you to try cocktails like these for your next casual party or event.
The Bare Necessities
Some spirits are necessary, some are optional. You always need a good bottle of vodka in the house, but it doesn’t mean you need a marshmallow flavored one. Here’s some liqueurs your home bar really can’t (or shouldn’t) live without…
This almond flavored liqueur is one of the most popular liqueurs used at any bar. It’s made using apricot pits and is used in everything from coffee flavored drinks to shooters like the Alabama Slammer. It’s extremely versatile and one that should always remain stocked.
Kailua, in most regions, is the most popular coffee flavored liqueur, but of course can be substituted with a variety of other coffee liqueurs. It’s one of the most commonly used liqueurs called for in cocktail recipes.
Any well stocked bar will have both dry and sweet vermouth. It’s actually an aromatized fortified wine that’s flavored with a variety of botanicals to give it its unique flavor profile. Both dry and sweet vermouths are called for in a wide range of cocktails from the martini to the Manhattan. It’s a must-have for any home bar. Not having vermouth is like not having whisky or vodka.
Bailey’s Irish Cream
Any Irish cream liqueur will do, but Bailey’s is the classic. It’s a creamy liqueur made of Irish whiskey, cream and chocolate that’s used in a wide variety of cocktails and shooters, but also enjoyed neat or on the rocks.
This is an orange flavored liqueur that’s just a premium version of the standard triple sec, which of course is more than suitable. It’s a standard in a huge number of cocktails and one that needs to be on hand at all times.
A satisfying liqueur, it’s made from a secret formula which includes Scotch whisky, heather honey and various herbs. It’s popular in many cocktail recipes but also on its own.
Made of toasted hazelnuts, coffee, cocoa, rhubarb and vanilla, this liqueur is another standard in any bar. It’s exceptionally popular with both men and women and is called for in many cocktails you’ll find in your favorite bartending book.