Know your liquor from your liqueur
Do you know the difference between a liquor and a liqueur?
If not, then you’re about to find out. Although they sound similar and have a lot in common, these two types of alcoholic drinks are actually quite different. Both are used and mixed in different ways, and even chosen for specific occasions.
Today, cocktails have become hugely popular– resulting in a renewed fascination with liqueurs. Whether you order a Negroni, an Amaretto Sour or an Espresso Martini, they would be nothing without the addition of liqueurs.
Liqueur, liquor, what’s the difference?
In the past, it was quite simple to differentiate between a liqueur and a liquor. Traditionally, spirits such as whiskey, vodka and gin were classed as liquors. Drinks such as Baileys, Schnapps and Amarula were categorised as liqueurs.
These days, spirits have evolved – with the addition of extra flavours being added, for example things like Rhubarb flavoured gin and Pineapple vodka, this makes it harder to distinguish between the two.
Here’s the simple way to tell the difference, liqueurs are generally sweeter and much more flavour forward, while liquors have a “harder” taste, and any flavouring tends to hit the palette later. Another difference is alcohol content liqueurs are generally much lower, often between 15-30% ABV, whilst liquors are often over 40% ABV. So, for the next time you’re at the bar, in a store or talking about drinks with your friends, read on to ensure you know what you’re drinking.
What is a liqueur?
Liqueur (pronounced “lick-kewr” or “lick-oor”) is quite different from liquor. Liqueurs are actually richer tasting – the dominant taste of the fruit or other flavour that they use, makes them perfect ingredients for cocktails – while liquor has a much stronger alcohol flavour.
Liqueurs are used in some of the most amazing cocktails ever created. They provide complexity and an element of extra depth to the mix. They are the ingredients that usually elevate the drink to something exquisite – and like liquor, most can also be enjoyed pure, chilled, or with ice.
What is a liquor?
A liquor (pronounced “licker”) is sometimes referred to as a “spirit” or “hard-alcohol”. They are made through a process of fermentation of grains or other plants. The distillation, that happens after fermenting, divides the water from the alcohol, increasing the alcohol content. Most are over 20% ABV at a minimum – and at a maximum can reach up to 55% ABV. Now that’s packing a real punch.
Liquor can be used in cocktails but can also be drunk pure or with ice. Think gin and tonic, vodka martini (shaken not stirred), rum and coke, as well as classic cocktails like the Manhattan, or an old-fashioned.
Liqueurs – a brief history
Did you know that liqueur recipes have been found in Egyptian tombs and ancient Greek scrolls? They were originally thought to be created for their medicinal purposes by European monks during the 13th century. They invented liqueur by infusing herbs – and one of the most famous from this period is Green Chartreuse which was developed by the Carthusian order in the French Alps. This particular infusion contains 130 herbs and spices. It is said that only three monks know the recipe to create this drink, with its unique flavour and colour.
The opening of trade routes saw the introduction of more varieties of spices and “exotic” ingredients including ginger, orange and chocolate. These found themselves appearing in a new breed of liqueurs created by smaller distillers who created their own recipes.
This is the period where they attracted a more fashionable audience thanks to Catherine De Medici’s marriage to Henry II of France. She introduced the French Court to the culture of liqueur drinking.
These days, when we browse the supermarket shelves or look online, the variety of liqueurs available is astounding. You can find different brands and products from all over the globe, including popular fruit-based recipes featuring strawberries, blackcurrants, mangoes, oranges – and tropical themed coconut liqueurs. It all depends on where they are made in the world.
As well as fruit, spices are also a very popular ingredient for making liqueurs. Common recipes include the use of cinnamon, vanilla and cardamom, either alone, or in a combination of fruits and nuts, they can be found in many well-known liqueurs.
Liqueurs is a category that is ever evolving and probably provides the alcohol industry with its most creative and versatile product.
Coole Swan is a great example, the world’s first truly premium Irish cream liqueur. It is lighter and more mixable than others that you may have tried before. Why not try this award winning liqueur by mixing up your own cocktail, you can find our favourites in our cocktails page.
Liquor – some hard facts
We use Irish whiskey as one of our key ingredients, but did you know that liquor is a distilled alcoholic product and is made by distilling anything that has been fermented? Most people don’t know what fermentation or distillation is, so read on to find out more.
Fermentation is the process of turning sugars into alcohol. That’s how beer, wine and ciders are made.
Distillation takes the process one step further and turns fermented beverages into much stronger versions by separating the alcohol from the water. By removing the water, the alcohol in the liquid becomes much more concentrated. This is done by heating up the fermented beverage.
The alcohol evaporates first, but don’t worry. The vapor is collected and then once it has cooled down again, it turns back into liquid form. And this is called liquor, or spirits.
And why do some people call it a spirit and where does the name come from? It all dates back to when distillation was first invented. Many people were very superstitious and believed in the supernatural – and some people even thought that the vapour of the extracted alcohol, looked like a ghostly spirit. The resulting liquor was called ‘a gift from the Gods’ – and that’s how and why liquor is sometimes called a spirit.
It’s also why you’ll often hear liquor called ‘hard liquor’ – because after the water has been taken away, you’re left with the ‘hard stuff’.
There are six types of liquor and you can find them at any pub, bar or restaurant these are vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, Tequila and brandy.
We at Coole Swan use Irish whiskey, which is usually made from malted and unmalted barley. Irish whiskeys are renowned for being smooth, clean and easier to drink than Scottish whisky – and obviously, because they are from Ireland, choosing one of the best that Ireland has to offer came naturally to us.