As generations of mixologists will attest, liqueurs provide the heart and soul of most notable cocktails. Their brilliant flavors and lush, satiny, textured bodies render them capable of tempering the enthusiasm of high-octane spirits and transforming disparate ingredients into joy-inducing libations. Without a varied complement of liqueurs on the back bar, a bartender’s drink-making abilities shift into low gear.
While category sales were down slightly in 2007, dropping 0.4 percent according to Cheers parent The Beverage Information Group (BIG), interest in liqueurs is growing fast, thanks largely to the prevailing cocktail culture. Mixologists looking for increasingly diverse products and flavors are driving demand, and suppliers are fanning the flames with intriguing new releases.
“I have no doubt that liqueurs is the new breakthrough category,” says Josh Durr, beverage consultant with Molecular Bartending of Louisville, Ky. “There has been an influx of extraordinary new liqueurs, as well as the reintroduction of several long-defunct liqueurs, and collectively they’re taking the mixology scene by storm.”
A number of highly touted liqueurs entering the market are further expanding the mixologist’s proverbial palette. So in the event you missed the fanfare over their initial release, here’s the scoop on some of the hottest prospects in the class of 2008.
At the head of the class is artisanal St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, which recently was named one of BIG’s Rising Star Growth Brands. Handcrafted in the foothills of the French Alps from wild elderflower blossoms, St-Germain has a lush, curvaceous body and pronounced aromas of tart citrus, pears and honey. Its floral-induced palate is expertly balanced, featuring layers of light, fresh flavors, including mango, rock candy and tangy grapefruit. The finish is long and satisfying.
Chad Solomon, drinks guru and principal in New York City’s Cuff & Buttons cocktail catering service, continues to find new applications for the versatile liqueur. “Because St-Germain is light-bodied and so well balanced, it’s a natural mixed with aromatic spirits such as gin, tequila, rum and pisco, as well as Champagne and brandies.”
A mega-trend to note is the perceptible shift away from liqueurs with sweet flavor profiles to those more savory and herbal. An ideal illustration is Clément Créole Shrubb. Long a favorite throughout the Caribbean, the exotic, highly aromatic liqueur is a blend of Clément silver and barrel-aged rhums that are infused with spices—including vanilla, nutmeg and cloves—fresh cane syrup, grapefruit and orange peels from Curaçao.
“I’ve been a huge fan of the liqueur since its arrival,” says Jonathan Pogash, director of cocktail development for New York’s Hospitality Holdings, which operates The Campbell Apartment, Campbell Terrace and The World Bar, among other Manhattan venues. “The Créole Shrubb adds magnificent spicy, floral and zesty orange notes to a cocktail. There’s nothing on the back bar remotely like it.”
Also topping the charts is recently released Domaine de Canton, a ginger-laced liqueur made in the heart of France. The small-batch gem is crafted with a blend of VSOP and XO Cognacs and museum-grade eaux de vie, which is patiently macerated with baby Vietnamese ginger, Tahitian vanilla, honey and ginseng. The remainder of its ingredients is a closely held secret.
“Considering the widespread popularity of ginger, the introduction of Domaine de Canton was well-timed,” says Adam Seger, general manager, sommelier and bar chef of Nacional 27 in Chicago. “The liqueur itself is sublime, and it adds delectably warm and spicy ginger notes to cocktails.” Seger uses the liqueur in a range of cocktails, he says, “everything from Mojitos to Sidecars, all to rave reviews.”
After decades of fervent requests from the international cocktail community, Black Friars Distillery—producers of Plymouth Gin—has resurrected its legendary, traditionally-produced Plymouth Sloe Gin. The succulent ruby red liqueur is made by macerating Plymouth Gin with fresh sloe berries and a touch of sugar, all according to the original 1883 recipe.
The first taste demonstrates that this is how sloe gin is meant to taste. The liqueur has a generous bouquet of sliced plums and vine-ripened raspberries, and a lingering, pleasantly tart finish of honey and berries. Plymouth Sloe Gin still is in national rollout.
Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, an Italian liqueur distilled from Marasca cherries, honey and cherry pits, also is experiencing a renaissance in the States. Although a frequently used ingredient in early cocktail recipes, maraschino never regained its pre-Prohibition prestige and had all but disappeared from American back bars by the time of the Kennedy administration. That is, until recently.
“I’ve been an ardent devotee of Luxardo Maraschino for years, and am delighted that it’s finally receiving the widespread recognition and acceptance it deserves,” says Jerri Banks, Manhattan-based consultant and mixologist. “I think its resurgent popularity can largely be attributed to the rebirth of the Aviation, a classic gin-based cocktail that uses maraschino in its construction.” At Nacional 27, Seger uses it in his version of the classic Aviation.
Those looking for a taste sensation with a more contemporary orientation need go no further than Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, a new ultra-premium from Sicily. While the roster of orange liqueurs includes such high-volume franchise performers as Cointreau and Grand Marnier, along with fast-growing Patrón Citrónge—which grew 46.3 percent in 2007, according to BIG—Solerno marches to an entirely different beat.
Charlotte Voisey, cocktail specialist and Hendrick’s Gin brand ambassador, notes that “Solerno has a bittersweet, citrus and spice palate that’s tailor-made for modern mixology. It’s so full and voluptuous, you can use Solerno as the base of a cocktail or in a supporting role as a modifier.”
A number of other highly touted liqueurs are entering the market and further expanding the mixologist’s palette. Cointreau Noir is an enchanting blend of Rémy Martin Cognac and the grande dame of liqueurs, Cointreau. Introduced in July, Cointreau Noir has a rich amber hue, a satiny, lightweight body and an irresistible vanilla and fresh citrus bouquet. It’s so precisely balanced that the spicy wood flavors of the Cognac and the vibrant orange notes of the Cointreau are enjoyed simultaneously and to the same degree. It’s a marriage that clearly works.
Another to try is Coole Swan, a beverage program in a bottle with seemingly unlimited applications behind the bar. The super-premium Irish liqueur composed of dairy-fresh double cream, Madagascan vanilla, white and dark chocolate, organic dark cocoa and Irish single malt whiskey has a lightweight, velvety textured body, the subtle aromas of vanilla and dark chocolate and a long-lasting complement of rich, creamy flavors.
Cocktail enthusiasts also are embracing Austrian newcomer Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette, a delectable elixir handmade from fine grape spirits and cane sugar macerated with wild Alpine violets. Like maraschino, it was once was a mainstay behind American bars—and is a required ingredient in many venerated classics. Crème de Violette is a delicate, yet memorable slice of heaven.
It’s a featured member of the Haus Alpenz collection of vintage, long-absent specialties such as St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram from the West Indies, Batavia Arrack from Indonesia and Velvet Falernum, an infusion of lime juice, spices and Barbadian rum, which are essential to recreating such classics as the original Mai Tai, Zombie and Vicious Virgin.
Maxwell Britten, principal barkeep and beverage director of Jack the Horse Tavern in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., considers their return to the States a creative windfall. “These long-lost products give us an opportunity to prepare many storied cocktails the likes of which haven’t be seen here since the 19th century. I know people who’ve been in the business 30 years or longer that have never tasted these intriguing liqueurs, no less worked with them. It’s an exciting time to be a mixologist.”
Those looking to inject more passion into their drinks should consider Agavero. The liqueur is a blend of barrel-aged tequilas sweetened with the essence of Damiana, a wild flower indigenous to the highlands of Jalisco and renowned for its brilliant fragrance and aphrodisiac properties. The sultry import has a spicy floral bouquet and a semisweet, herbal palate.
Molecular bartender Durr is an ardent fan. “Agavero makes a marvelous modifier in cocktails. It marries beautifully with a wide range of spirits, and the lively, peppery notes on its finish are unexpected and quite pleasant.”
Also drawing interest is Aperol, a soul-soothing aperitif from Padua, Italy that’s infused, in part, with bitter oranges, gentian root and rhubarb. A trim 11 percent alcohol by volume, the brand now is gaining traction in the U.S. Patricia Richards, the acclaimed mixologist for the Wynn Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nev., is impressed with its subdued bitterness and lively notes of rhubarb and strawberry. “Aperol is a versatile product that’s proven to be a marvelous find for us. It’s delicious on its own, and so well balanced that it makes an ideal modifier in cocktails.”
In a trade where flavor rules supreme, handcrafted X-Rated Fusion from France is a liqueur that warrants consideration. Its opaque, electric pink hue in no way prepares you for the artful seduction to follow. The liqueur is surprisingly light-bodied with floral and citrus notes and a luscious, tropical fruit palate. Attention-grabbing and delicious are good traits to possess.
Last but certainly not least on the list of burgeoning liqueur superstars is American-born Pama Pomegranate Liqueur, another 2008 Rising Star Growth Brands award recipient. Not relying on its strikingly good looks, the all-pro delivers on its promise of pomegranate with waves of refreshingly tart flavor. In its brief existence—the brand launched in 2006—Pama has become indispensable behind the bar.
“These liqueurs are so complex and mesmerizing that a little goes a long way in a cocktail,” says Banks, summing up the category. “They’re the ‘secret weapons’ in every great mixologist’s arsenal.”
Robert Plotkin is a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and has recently authored his 16th book, Secrets Revealed of America’s Greatest Cocktails. He can be reached at www.BarMedia.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The resurgent cocktail has brought about renewed interest in such vintage liqueurs as Chartreuse and Bénédictine. Far from overnight sensations, each is centuries old and the product of cloistered monasteries. The Carthusian Monks of Voiron, France have been making Green Chartreuse since 1607; the classic yellow version debuted in 1838. Bénédictine predates both of them. The Benedictine Order first created their revered herbal elixir in 1510.
“I think bartenders are initially curious about products like Green Chartreuse and Benedictine because they’re such heavily relied upon ingredients in classic cocktail recipes,” says Maxwell Britten, beverage director of Jack the Horse Tavern in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. “But soon that curiosity develops into an appreciation for the magnificent depth and complexity the liqueurs add to cocktails. Their revival has been a boon to our trade.”
Julie Reiner, owner of Flatiron Lounge and the Clover Club, two of New York City’s preeminent cocktail lounges, can attest to the increasing popularity of classic liqueurs. “We pour 10 times more Benedictine, Cherry Heering and maraschino at Flatiron than we did just five years ago, and I now purchase Green Chartreuse by the case. They’re elegant, highly nuanced and so distinctive and delicious that adding just a splash to a cocktail always seems advisable.” You’ll find these classics in such Clover Club specialties as the Black Mamba, made with rye whiskey, Green Chartreuse and Pommeau de Normandie, and the Lime Daisy, which uses aged rum, Yellow Chartreuse and lime sour mix.
Numerous new liqueur launches are making headlines lately, but the high-volume players continue to bolster the category with fresh flavor introductions. While this definitely provides bartenders ongoing inspiration, the constant barrage can be tough to manage.
Enter DeKuyper, which earlier this year organized its line of 60 liqueurs into five “families” based on usage and flavor profile; new packaging reflects the categories. For example, the recently released Burst family includes Buttershots, Hot Damn!, Sizzlin’ Cinnamon and Blustery Peppermint, each of which delivers intense flavor and are most often served as shots. The Luscious family includes Peachtree and Raspberry Rush along with the newcomers Red Apple, Pomegranate and the Tropical line. Additional families include Pucker (Sour Apple, Watermelon and Strawberry), Signature (Triple Sec, Amaretto Silk and Vanilla Delight) and Flavored Brandies (Blackberry, Peach and Coffee).
With the summer introduction of White Peach and Blueberry Passion Schnapps, the Hiram Walker line now boasts 42 Schnapps, Flavored Brandies and Bar Essentials, each made only with all-natural products. In addition, seasonals also reflect current flavor trends. Pumpkin Spice, which debuted in 2007, is joined this fall by Gingerbread.
The Bols Liqueurs family now numbers 29, covering the flavor spectrum from strawberry to lychee. Acai Berry joins the Bols clan this fall.
Other leading brand families are also growing. Baileys Mint Chocolate and Caramel made the case for life beyond the original Irish cream-based liqueur. The addition of Hazelnut and Vanilla last year and Mocha this year also broadened the Kahlua family. Brown-Forman is tapping the flavor trend on behalf of Southern Comfort by showcasing the whiskey-fruit-and-spice liqueur with lime in lively its “SoCo & Lime” television ads.
While operators can have a fair degree of confidence in taking on the latest addition to a known brand family, beverage consultant David Commer advises tasting it against similar flavors from other lines and also testing various brands’ renditions of the flavor in cocktails. Commer, who heads up Commer Beverage Consulting in Carrollton, Texas, also recommends being aware of the importance of call brands in your establishment, and thinking twice before taking on a one-off.
“I would hesitate to carry another brand just to save a few pennies,” he says. “Inventorying and carrying costs should also be considered.” —Donna Hood Crecca
Created by Adam Seger of Nacional 27, Chicago.
2 oz. gin
1 oz. lemon juice
½ oz. Luxardo
½ oz. hibiscus syrup
Shake vigorously and serve up with a lemon twist.
Created by Joshua Durr of Molecular Bartending.
¾ oz. Herradura Blanco
¼ oz. Rothman & Winter
Crème de Violette
½ oz. Green Chartreuse
½ oz. organic lime juice
Dash Fee’s West Indian
Pour ingredients into an iced mixing glass. Shake contents vigorously and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a flamed orange zest.
Blood and Sanguinello
Created by Charlotte Voisey, brand ambassador,
¾ oz. Glenfiddich
¾ oz. Solerno Blood
¾ oz. Lillet Rouge
2 dashes Regan’s
¼ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. fresh pink
½ oz. simple syrup
½ egg white (pasteurized)
Pour ingredients into an iced mixing glass, shake vigorously and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with an orange spiral.
This specialty of Campbell Terrace in New York City was created by Jonathan Pogash.
1 ½ oz. Old New Orleans Rum
½ oz. Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
¼ oz. Clemént Creole Shrubb
¼ oz. simple syrup
¼ oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. mango nectar
Pour ingredients into an iced mixing glass. Shake contents vigorously and strain into a glass with ice. Add pinch of allspice. Garnish with a lemon wheel
The Orient Express
Created by Adam Seger of Nacional 27, Chicago.
2 ½ oz. Domaine de
Canton Ginger Liqueur
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