Five obscure liqueur styles worth uncovering for cocktails

Yellow gentian growing in the alps. Photo: iStock

Liqueurs have an ancient history as a means for curing what ailed you; indeed, many liqueurs that still exist today first began their lives as remedies for illness. These days, though, it’s mostly about flavour and sweetness.

But there’s still a veritable treasure trove of liqueurs styles out there for bartenders to muck about with — here’s a look at five obscure styles of liqueur that are ripe for a comeback.

Génépi

Génépi is a style of liqueur named for the broad term of alpine plants that go into the bottle — here, we’re mostly talking about wormwood, but other herbs will go into the mix creating complex favours in the bottle.

Gentiane

Gentiane is the term for the group of liqueurs that employ the gentian root for their dominant flavour. What does gentian taste like? Well, it’s earthy. They most famously come from the Auvergne region of France, an alpine area where you’ll find the yellow gentian flowers dotting the landscape. There’s a number of types of gentian that go into the liqueurs, depending on the brand, and it can take up to 10 years for the plant to flower and then it can take even longer before the plant is ready to harvest. They take the root of the plant, which can grow up to a metre long, and grind them up for maceration. Depending on the brand, a host of other botanicals are used to round out the flavour — bitter, sweet, earthy and pungent, it’s acquired — but delicious — taste.

Sap liqueurs

Have you ever heard of spruce beer? You’re forgiven if you haven’t, but it’s not such a strange idea. The Vikings are said to have brewed a beer from pine tree sap (you may even see its influence at Sydney’s viking-esque Mjolner), and old mate Jerry Thomas featured a pine-based drink in his 1862 book, How To Mix Drinks.

And those living in the alpine regions of France, Switzerland, and Austria? Well, they’ve been making liqueurs with the sap from the pine tree for centuries.

If you think that’s odd, well, it ain’t. Gum arabic, for one, is a sweetener used in Middle Eastern desserts and comes from the sap of the acacia tree; the greek mastika liqueur is made from the resin of mastic trees.

Liqueur de sapin hails from the commune of Pontarlier near the French border with Switzerland, a region where absinthe was made famous. The liqueur is made by macerating a number of herbs in alcohol before add young fir buds, in a way reminiscent of the way hops are added to beer. The liqueurs are herbal, complex, and feature a light piney aroma.

Pimento Dram

This warming liqueur is a simpatico partner to rum, brandy, bourbon or Scotch and works wonders in punches, blazers, and bittered slings. It richness, however, doesn’t make this liqueur exempt from taking part in cooling summer drinks – it’s a wonderfully eccentric ingredient to throw into a Zombie, Navy Grog or any other tiki beverage.

Swedish Punsch

Swedish Punsch is essentially a concentrate; add it to a bowl, add some ice and dilution, and you’ve got yourself ready to go Punch. It is traditionally an amalgam of sugar cane syrup, spice and citrus, blended with a base of Batavian Arrack, a sugar cane spirit that is fermented with Javanese rice and has a funky, smoky flavour.

It’s pretty hard to come by proprietary bottlings here in Australia, but in the US you can pick up Kronan Swedish Punsch.  

6 bottles to sweeten the mix

Esprit de Figues
Made in France using fresh Bordeaux figs and French technique, this liqueur is designed to mix well with other ingredients and pours a pale mauve colour in the glass.
Think Spirits

De Kuyper Apricot Brandy
This release from De Kuyper seeks to give bartenders a hand in recreating the classics. Made from crushed kernels and fresh apricot, the distillate is blended with brandy. 
Bacardi-Martini

1883 Gourmet Agave Syrup
1883 Gourmet Agave Syrup is another one in the fine collection of syrups from French producer Maison Routin — it’s full of sweet agave flavour.
PosiPour

Salers Gentiane Liqueur
Salers is a famous brand of gentiane, with a recipe that remains unchanged from the 19th century, made using the root of yellow gentian and more.
Cerbaco

Monin Pineapple Syrup
David Embury once wrote that “Most of the old Fix recipes call for pineapple syrup,” and that’s just one of the reasons why you may want to have a steady supply of this on hand.
Stuart Alexander

Solerno
Solerno is made from blood oranges in Sicily, and Italian lemons. Bright blood orange and lemon characters on the nose, a tart palate, and a generous mouthfeel.
William Grant & Sons