The October 2012 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine included my review column on Liqueurs and Cordials! The issue is currently on the newsstand, or you can view the digital format (subscribers only). Here’s what I learned:
1. This is one freaking huge category. In retrospect, I was foolish in flinging the door wide open. But since I’d already done a review column on orange liqueurs and another on coffee/tea liqueurs and still another on the pleasantly bitter/herbal liqueurs that fall within the Aperitif spirits category, I figured there couldn’t be all that much left to try.
Boy, was I wrong: the grand total on my tasting shelf? 99 bottles of liqueurs on the wall (nope, not 100)!
2. In fact, there were so many, I had to divvy them into categories in order to attack them with some efficiency and meet my deadline. In the end, it was a useful exercise. I decided the basic liqueur categories included Fruit & Floral (subcategory for limoncello); Whiskey-based; “Dessert-like” (subcategory for cream liqueurs); and Herbal. Of course, plenty more categories exist, but this system got me through.
3. What’s the difference between a liqueur and a cordial? Apparently, nothing. According to Gaz Regan’s “The Bartender’s Bible,” it’s a matter of geography: “In America, a cordial, usually served as an after-dinner drink, is what the rest of the world calls a liqueur — a sweetened liquor.” I did notice that the sweeter, dessert-like bottles (chocolate, coffee, cream liqueurs) were slightly more likely to be labeled “cordials” compared to fruity or herbal counterparts.
4. Krauterliqueur. This category – apparently an old German name for herbal liqueurs, many of which date back to the 1800s, 1600s, even the 1500s– was new to me, and a delightful surprise. They seem like Germany’s answer to Italy’s amaro category. My favorites included the fruity-spiced digestif Killepitsch, the lightly herbal Schwartzhog, and the refreshingly berry-sweet/bitter mix of The Bitter Truth E*X*R.
5. Bright pink drinks. These were a less pleasant surprise: the wide range of variations on “French vodka, blood orange liqueur, and passion fruit,” each marked with a similarly lurid neon pink hue and mildly racy name (Intrigue Pink; Kinky Liqueur; X-Rated Fusion Liqueur). What I object to is not the liqueurs — the grapefruit-cocktail flavor was fine — but the sameness. If a dozen “Krauterliqueurs” can be so complex and diverse, so can bottled pink fruit drinks.
If you have a favorite liqueur, I’d love to hear about it! I invite you to comment below.