While the words “liquor” and “liqueur” might look similar, they are two different things. Those differences go beyond how the words are pronounced (liquor, pronounced liᐧkr, and liqueur, pronounced luhᐧkur) to the differences in how they taste.
What’s the Difference Between Liquor and Liqueur?
It’s true that both liquor and liqueur are alcoholic beverages. Both can be enjoyed alone or as an ingredient in a cocktail. And both can range in potency. Where they differ is in their flavors.
What is Liquor?
Liquor is a distilled spirit containing alcohol and derived from plants or grains. The primary six liquors include whiskey, brandy, gin, rum, vodka, and tequila. There are others, of course, but these six are the bestselling and most popular liquors available.
Even though sugar is present during the fermentation process, liquor does not taste sweet. And that’s where liqueur differs from liquor.
What is Liqueur?
Liqueur is created using a base liquor such as whiskey, rum, or brandy to which sweetened flavors, oils, or extracts have been added. Liqueurs taste sweet and can be included in a cocktail or enjoyed alone.
Some herbal liqueurs have been around for centuries, originally produced for medicinal purposes. For example, Bénédictine was created by a French monk in the 16th century to support good health. Of course, now the liqueur is an ingredient in many high-end cocktails.
Liqueurs come in a wide range of flavors, from chocolate to butterscotch to coffee and almond. They vary in consistency too, some creamy like Irish Cream and some possessing an almost syrupy quality, like Limoncello.
What Are Some Popular Liqueurs?
There are many popular liqueurs, but the following five are some of our very favorites:
Amaretto has a rich almond flavor with notes of vanilla. It means “little bitter” in Italian and does, in fact, have a bitter finish. Amaretto can be served alone over ice or added to coffee or cocoa for a delicious after dinner drink.
Rich and full-bodied, Kahlua has intense coffee flavors with hints of vanilla and caramel. It can be sipped alone, warm or cold, or mixed with vodka to create a Black Russian cocktail.
Orange-flavored Cointreau offers notes that are both bitter and sweet with just a whisper of warm spices. You’ll want to be sure to have this fragrant ingredient on hand when mixing up a batch of Cosmopolitans or Citrus Sidecars.
Peach Schnapps is one of the top selling schnapps in the country. Its intense peach flavors complement orange juice and vodka in a Fuzzy Navel or mixed with cranberry juice, orange juice, and vodka for a Sex on the Beach.
Combine flavors of spiced honey with notes of anise, orange peel, and oak, and you have Drambuie. This smooth liqueur can be enjoyed straight over ice or mixed with Scotch whisky to create a Rusty Nail.
How Should Liqueur Be Served?
Liqueurs can be enjoyed in so many ways, whether you serve them as an aperitif or digestif, mixed in a cocktail or poured solo in a small cordial glass. Now that you know the difference between liquor and liqueur, your mixology options have expanded, and it’s likely your bar cart just got a bit more crowded.