Liqueurs – why so sweet?

Probably the oldest of all high-strength alcoholic beverages they were originally the preserve of monks who produced them primarily for medicinal purposes. The first record of a liqueur belongs to Kummel in 1575 ; made with caraway seeds as an aid to digestion. Some liqueurs sold today still retain their ancient heritage and their recipes are often closely guarded secrets. In some instances they are not even written down but passed on by word of mouth from one generation to the next, while with others, the holders of these secrets refuse to fly on the same plane as one another.

It is important to make a distinction between liqueurs and spirits even if this distinction can on occasion become somewhat blurred. A liqueur is a spirit that has been sweetened and flavoured, whereas natural sugars are fermented into alcohol and subsequently distilled to make a spirit.

In order to make a liqueur, one needs something with which to sweeten the spirit—generally sugar or honey—and something soluble with which to flavour it. The character of a liqueur will always come from these flavouring agents rather than from the base spirit.

There is diverse range of liqueurs, which can be broadly categorised as follows :

Fruit e.g. cherry and apricot brandy such as De kuypers, cherry brandy.

N.B. Despite their nomenclature these are not actually brandies at all ; they are by definition liqueurs. The real cherry brandy is Eau de Vie de Kirsch.

Crèmes Notably Crème de Cassis. Or Creme de Mure, Creme de Mrytille, Creme de Abricot etc.

Citrus e.g. triple sec, curaçao, Blue Curacao, Cointreau and Grand Marnier.

Mixed & single herb or flower (petals, seeds or roots) e.g. caraway, mint, aniseed, violet, rose and bitters, which have more than 100g / litre of sugar and anise. Popular liqueurs in the category are Wolfschmidtt Kumel, Benedictine, Parfait amour, Chartreuse.

Beans & kernels e.g. cocoa beans, coffee beans, vanilla pods, nuts. Creme de Cacao, Kahlua, Tia Maria Grand Marnier Navan and Frangelico are a few examples.

Creams e.g. based on Irish whiskey, brandy, toffee, peppermint, such as Baileys, Dooleys Cream, Aamrula and Coole Swan.

Mistelles Fresh fruit juice with its fruit distillate and a minimum of 100g / litre sugar if classified as a liqueur ; the addition of high-strength alcohol prevents the juice from fermenting whilst stabilising the character and natural sugars of the fruit. Containing no wine, yet sometimes erroneously referred to as wine spirit liqueurs ! e.g. Pineau de Charentes from Cognac, Floc de Gascogne from Armagnac, Pommeau de Normandie from Calvados and Ratafias—which nowadays refers to French grape-based


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