Liqueurs are perhaps the most underrated spirits category. They come in forms of sweet and sugary, floral, creamy, herbal, fruity, nutty, and many others. And they’re often the flavor booster to whiskey- , brandy- , rum- and tequila-based cocktails.
Spirits industry investors say this category is growing, likely because of the cocktail culture sweeping the country. But it’s so diverse that some subcategories, such as rock and rye, are blowing up, while others, such as sloe gin, remain stagnant.
Nonetheless, it’s a category to pay attention to, and you might want to consider a bottle for your next trip. According to U.S. regulation, a liqueur is defined as: “Flavored spirits product containing not less than 2.5 percent by weight sugar, dextrose, laevulose, or a combination thereof made by mixing or redistilling any class or type of spirits with or over fruits, flowers, plants, or pure juices therefrom or other natural flavoring materials or with extracts derived from infusions, percolation or maceration of such materials.” In other words, liqueurs come with some sort of sweetener and can be derived many different ways.
These are my favorites with the preferred cocktails.
Family owned and dating back to 1821, Luxardo is the original maraschino liqueur. Founded in Zara, a Dalmatian coast port city, Luxardo’s roots are traced to Girolamo Luxardo’s wife Maria Canevari, who created a "rosolio maraschino," a liqueur produced in Dalmatian convents since medieval times from special maraschino cherries. Her delicious liqueur received "Privilegiata Fabbrica Maraschino Excelsior" from the Emperor of Austria and soon became an iconic figure of quality.
If you’re a fan of literature, it’s often simply referred to as the Maraschino and is the renowned ingredient in such cocktails as the Last Word, Martinez, and my favorite, the Hemingway daiquiri.
By itself, Luxardo is a delightful dram, particularly after dinner, offering a sensual flavor highway of sweet and tangy. In a cocktail, it’s always detectable.
2 ounces light rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 ounce Luxardo
Most internet recipes will call for a maraschino liqueur, but there’s only one worth putting in your cocktail shaker and that’s Luxardo. Combine all ingredients with ice in a shaker and shake until the shaker shows flecks of ice on the outside of the tin. Strain in a cocktail glass and garnish with lime wheel.
Like Luxardo, Grand Marnier roots are traced to the 1820s. Jean-Baptiste Lapostolle built the first distillery in Neaphe-le-Chateau, a small city near Paris. He began blending cognac and natural fruits, a style that’s still accepted and beloved today. In 1876, Lapostolle’s son, Eugene, married a Marnier woman. The Marniers distributed Lapostolle’s products, and now, they were one.
By 1880, the Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge blended Cognac with orange, a style that forever changed liqueurs. Grand Marnier is said to have been stocked in on the Titanic and continues to be the drink of choice for celebrities. It’s warm Cognac notes of vanilla and taffy are perfectly matched with the orange zest. Grand Marnier is great as an additive to Champagne, but my favorite cocktail with Grand Marnier is the sidecar.
1 ounce Cognac
¾ ounce Grand Marnier (Most recipes call for Cointreau here, but I prefer Grand Marnier.)
¾ ounces lemon juice
Add all ingredients in cocktail shaker with ice and vigorously shake. Strain over ice. Some recipes call for sugared rims, but I’m not a fan of those.
Domaine de Canton
Created in the late 1990s, Domaine de Canton is a French ginger liqueur and offers some of the most-beautiful ginger flavors found in any form. If you love the spice and delicacy of a candied ginger or a thin slice of ginger, you’ll love Canton.
The original recipe was produced using six varieties of ginger. Today it’s made with crystalized Chinese baby ginger, Grand Champagne cognac, orange blossom, and a few other ingredients that create a little slice of ginger heaven in a bottle. Owned by bourbon giant Heaven Hill Brands, Canton blossoms when mixed with bourbon. In fact, my favorite Canton cocktail is the Gold Rush: 1.5 ounces Canton, 1 ounce bourbon and ½ ounce fresh lemon juice shaken and poured over ice.
Of course, all of these liqueurs can be enjoyed alone, but they’re all a little better in a cocktail.