What is a Liqueur?
Today's liqueurs come in a wide and growing variety of flavours. But what exactly is a liqueur?
Fruity, bitter, tart, spicy, chocolatey, creamy, nutty, liqueurs today come in a vast array of flavours.
The word liqueur comes from the Latin "liquifacere" which means "to dissolve or melt". Liqueurs are distilled spirits (or liquors) such as vodka or rum sweetened with sugar or syrup. They can also be flavoured with various additions such as herbs and oils, but it's the addition of sugar that turns them into a liqueur.
Adding sugars and possibly flavours tend to reduce the alcohol content to between 15% and 30% ABV, but not always. A bottle of Green Chartreuse Liqueur can have an ABV up to a whopping 55%.
The production process for liqueurs means that unlike many other alcoholic beverages, liqueurs don't need time to age, although some do take a little time out to allow all their flavours to merge and mingle.
Recipes for liqueurs have been around for centuries, with references being found on ancient Greek scrolls and in Egyptian tombs. The birth of today's liqueurs, however, is most often attributed to 13th century Monks and physicians creating herbal liqueurs for medicinal purposes.
Due to the ability to sweeten a palette, many liqueurs can be enjoyed neat, often as an after-dinner drink. However, the real versatility comes in the form of cocktails and their ability to transform both sweet and savoury cooking.
Liqueurs bring sweetness and depth of flavour to many of the classic cocktails. Think Orange Liqueur in a Cosmopolitan, Margarita or Sidecar. With the resurgence of cocktails in the 1980s, there has been an explosion of liqueur cocktail options and many experimental mixologists discovering new and exciting blends.
Cooking with Liqueurs
As with cocktails, liqueurs offer a syrupiness depth to many recipes. Think sweet sticky sloe gin sauce for lamb, blood orange chocolate truffles or strawberry liqueur coulis drizzled over a panna cotta.