With so much attention being lavished these days on the surging popularity of cocktails and premium spirits, it’s easy to understand why liqueurs are frequently relegated as passé and out of step with contemporary tastes. They’re not especially glitzy and rarely—if ever—get coverage in the media. After all, who sips crème de menthe frappés any more?
Fact is, most mixologists will attest the cocktail’s phenomenal renaissance is due in large part to the overlooked contributions of liqueurs and cordials. Their brilliant flavors and lush, satiny bodies temper the enthusiasm of high-octane spirits and provide the heart of most notable cocktails.
The liqueur and cordial segment remains vital and well supported by suppliers. Mixologists on the lookout for new and exciting flavors are driving demand. And suppliers are only too pleased to fan the flames with intriguing releases. Here’s the skinny on the hottest prospects of the past year or so.
Agwa de Bolivia — An emerald green liqueur made in Amsterdam from handpicked coca leaves grown in the Andes Mountains. A proprietary process removes in the leaves narcotic compounds before they are blended with 36 herbs, a mix that includes Guarana, Ginseng and Yerba Mate. Delicious and intriguing are an unbeatable combination. (30% alcohol)
Becherovka — Long a mainstay on European backbars, Becherovka is now making a run at the American market. The liqueur has been produced in Carlsbad in the Czech Republic since 1805 from a closely guarded recipe of local herbs and botanicals. It is highly aromatic and loaded with the flavors of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, menthol and cardamom, making it marvelously complex. (38% alcohol)
Charbay Nostalgie Black Walnut — Made by master distiller Miles Karakasevic at his family’s small Napa winery and distillery, the highly acclaimed liqueur is made in small batches from Black, English and Carpathian walnuts, a secret mix of herbs and spices and triple-distilled copper pot (Pinot Noir) brandy. Absolutely in a class of its own. (30% alcohol)
Coffee Heering — Another product well suited for use in cocktails is Coffee Heering Liqueur from Denmark. Made from an 1818 recipe developed as a line extension to the original Cherry Heering, the all-natural liqueur is produced with coffee and cacao beans and Caribbean rum. (35% alcohol)
Dancing Pines Chai — Handcrafted at the Dancing Pines Distillery in Loveland, Colorado, this liqueur is made with a blend of whole leaf black tea and five spices. Dancing Pines Chai is richly flavored and loaded with creative applications behind the bar. The range also includes the equally impressive Dancing Pines Espresso. (30% alcohol)
Dimmi Liquore di Milano — An ultra-suave liqueur made from organic winter wheat spirits and grappa di Nebbiolo that are infused with herbs and fruit, including assenzio gentile, anise, vanilla, rhubarb, ginseng and bitter orange. A second floral infusion of delicate peach and apricot blossoms adds a delightful aromatic component to the liqueur. Brilliant. (35% alcohol)
Faretti Biscotti Famosi — The liqueur is handcrafted in Tuscany from an infusion of citrus, nuts, fennel and caramel, which combine to recreate the flavor of fresh biscotti twice baked in rustic brick ovens. The liqueur is a dead-ringer for the traditional Italian dessert—only without the accompanying crumbs. Top-notch. (28% alcohol)
Forbidden Secret American Cream — This aromatic and fiendishly delicious liqueur is made in Wisconsin from fresh dairy cream, Jailers Premium Tennessee Whiskey and a blend of rich dark chocolate and robust espresso coffee. (15% alcohol)
Harlem Kruiden — Harlem is a blend comprised of fresh herbs, spices and a modicum of mandarin. The liqueur has a lavish bouquet of fresh citrus, sarsaparilla, mocha and classic earthy notes. It’s balanced with surgical precision into a thoroughly satisfying, well-integrated taste sensation. (40% alcohol)
Hpnotiq Harmonie — Hpnotiq is the country’s fifth largest selling imported liqueur. New to the portfolio is Hpnotiq Harmonie, an infusion of French Vodka, berries, flowers and Cognac crafted in the tradition of Pineau de Charentes. Its vibrant color is the result of the violets and lavender in the blend. The versatile liqueur is light-bodied and aromatic with a lingering fruit and brandy finish. (17% alcohol)
HUM — This American-born, amaro-styled liqueur derives its brilliant character from a blend of pot-stilled Martinique rhum, fair trade hibiscus flowers, organic ginger, green cardamom, kaffir lime and raw Hawaiian sugar cane. It has peppery spice and wafting floral notes and long-lasting, palate-warming flavors. It’s a culinary gem. (35% alcohol)
Jaan — Canadian born Jaan is unlike anything on the market. The liqueur is made in Toronto from neutral grain spirits, Canadian maple syrup and a singular blend of herbs and spices. The palate is a spicy affair, a secret proprietary blend with notes of cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. There’s a touch of maple syrup on the lingering finish. (25% alcohol)
RumChata — Who wouldn’t crave horchata-laced cream liqueur infused with Caribbean rum? RumChata is delicious and devoid of the cloying finish that plagues some cream liqueurs. If you can’t have fun with RumChata behind the bar, perhaps you’re no longer breathing. (13.75% alcohol)
Tiramisu Liqueur — The dessert Tiramisu may have originated in Italy, but its enormous popularity has made it a citizen of the world. The liqueur by the same name is crafted in northern Italy using pure ingredients like Marsala wine and natural infusions of coffee, cocoa and vanilla. Fortunately those of us in the drinks business, the bottled version of the famed dessert is a dead ringer for what a pastry chef makes. (24% alcohol)