The rookies guide to the sweet stuff: liqueurs



Liqueurs have a long history; today, many brands have roots from the 1600’s (both Bols and de Kuyper go back to the 1500’s!). The monks at Chartreuse, for example, have been making their secret recipe since 1737. And it’s suggested that Goldwasser, a herbal and root driven liqueur that contains 22 carat gold flakes was a particular favourite of the Russian Tsar Peter the Great. Liqueurs, obviously, have been around a long time.


Liqueurs are produced in a few different ways:

Maceration and infusion

The flavour component of the liqueur is steeped in alcohol to extract flavour from the ingredients. In the case of infusions, heat may be applied (often more necessary for hard spices which release their character slower without heat).



The neutral spirit flows through the flavourings as liquid or a vapour.

Distillation and steam distillation

By distilling a wash or a wine with the flavourings in the mix. In the case of steam, steam extracts the flavour from the ingredients which is then recondensed.


The four things you need to know about the EU’s definition of a liqueur:

1. A minimum 100g/L of sugar.

2. To be labelled a “crème de”, it must have a minimum sugar content of 250g/L.

3. Unless it is a crème de cassis, which must be a blackcurrant liqueur with a minimum of 400g/L of sugar.

4. It must be a minimum of 15% ABV (except in the case of advocaat, which is allowed to be as low as 14%).


There are no rules when it comes to the styles of liqueurs; they can be flavoured with anything from herbs, spices, nuts and botanicals as well as fresh fruit (as in the crèmes from France like crème de cassis).

How to serve it

It’s not uncommon to see a liqueur in a mixed drink (Frangelico, soda and lime being a popular example) but traditionally liqueurs were served at the conclusion of a meal in a liqueur glass. You can put them in coffees for a liqueur coffee, but perhaps the most creative way is in the form of a pousse café, which utilises the different weights of each liqueur to create a layered effect in a glass. If your mixing in cocktails, remember to balance the sweet with some acid — the Japanese Slipper (shown below) is a good case in point.

japanese slipper

“But why should this recipe be one that you have to hand? Because sometimes you need a drink that is sweet, for that punter with a sweet tooth who ain’t a fan of big spirits. You might want to recommend a different drink, a drier drink, a punchier drink — a more obscure drink. But sometimes you ought to give the customer what they want, and this drink is a good way of doing that.”

Japanese Slipper

30ml Midori
30ml Cointreau
30ml lemon juice
3 dashes Boker’s Bitters
Shake all ingredients and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Japanese Slipper is similar to good, sweet riesling. You know, like the German stuff that sells for hundreds a bottle and is called Beerenauslese. I’m not saying they’re the same. But the idea is similar.

They’re similar because there is plenty of sugar in this drink, plenty of sweetness, just like that great, sweet riesling. And like riesling it’s got a killer kick of acid to cut through the sweetness and that’s the reason this drink has been around for nearly thirty years: the one-two punch of sweetness and acidity. The acidity kickstarts the saliva flowing, and makes this an approachable (albeit sweet) drink to cleanse the palate with.


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