Want to know a secret? I am guilty of having used liquor vs. liqueur interchangeably in the past. Over time, I certainly learned the error of my ways, but I still hear people wonder about the difference. When I wrote a post about cocktail facts, these were the things I was looking for. Cocktail history and culture is full of stories about five ways something could be true. Luckily with the debate between liquor vs. liqueur, it’s fairly straight-forward. I’ll share why it matters along with one of my favorite cocktail recipes featuring liqueur.
What’s the difference between liquor vs liqueur?
Liquor is a broad term that encompasses all distilled beverages or spirits. The name comes from the Latin verb “liquere” which means “to be fluid.” Distillation is the process of vaporization and condensation to purify and concentrate fermented mixtures. These mixtures are comprised of grains, fruits, vegetables, or sugar that have already been fermented. The distillation process increases the alcohol by volume (ABV). The term liquor is interchangeable with spirits, hard alcohol, and distilled beverage. Examples of liquor include whiskey, rum, gin, and vodka.
Liqueur is an alcoholic drink made from a diluted form of liquor added to a sweetener, plants, and/or grains. It was invented initially as a form of medicine dating back to the 15th century. Like many alcoholic beverages, monks are credited with creating liqueurs. One of the most famous liqueurs sold today, Chartreuse, is still made by monks. Liqueurs are typically lower in ABV than other spirits and are a category of liquor. The process does not include aging beyond the initial production process when flavors are allowed to marinate. Examples of liqueurs are Italicus, Zirbenz, St. Germain, and Ancho Reyes.
Why does it matter?
So, to recap, liqueur is a type of liquor. It’s the same difference as bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon. The distinction is important if you want to be correct. The world will not stop turning on its axis if you get it wrong, but we all want to sound smart. Plus, if you don’t know about the category of liqueurs, you are missing out!
One of my favorite ways to use liqueurs in cocktails is to use it in place of a simple syrup. By adding St. Germain to a French 75 or Amaro Montenegro in an Old Fashioned you can create something new. Keep in mind that some liqueurs are sweeter than others. You may find that you still need to add a little simple syrup to create the perfect balance.
Example of a Great Liqueur Cocktail
Alpine Hippie Juice
One of my favorite liqueurs is Zirbenz. The Austrian liqueur comes from stone pine fruit. It has an interesting history dating back to 1797. It adds an incredible pine flavor to drinks. The Alpine Hippie Juice cocktail highlights the pine flavors perfectly without overwhelming your senses. For this version, I used Plymouth Sloe Gin and Rémy Martin VSOP cognac. It is complex and refreshing.
Alpine Hippie Juice
- 1.25 oz sloe gin
- 0.75 oz cognac
- 0.75 oz Zirbenz
- 0.5 oz lime juice
- 0.5 oz grapefruit juice
- Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice.
- Shake for 15-20 seconds and double strain into a Nick & Nora glass.
- Garnish with a dried or live flower bud.
I hope that helped you learn more about liquor vs liqueur. It’s a great category to learn about. This podcast episode does a great job of going deeper into the history of liqueurs. Give it a listen!