Liquor produced by combining a base spirit, usually brandy, with flavourings and sugar syrup. Alcohol content ranges from 24percnt to 60percnt by volume, and flavourings include fruits, nuts, herbs, spices, and such ingredients as coffee and chocolate. Liqueurs were probably first produced commercially by medieval monks and alchemists. Sweet and containing ingredients that promote digestion, they are popular as after-dinner drinks and are also used in mixed drinks and dessert dishes. Varieties include apricot liqueur, crème de menthe (mint-flavoured), curaçao (with green orange peel, from Curaçao), and proprietary brands such as Bénédictine (an herb liqueur), Grand Marnier (an orange liqueur from France's Cognac region), Irish Mist (flavoured with Irish whiskey and honey), and Kahlúa (coffee-flavoured).
Learn more about liqueur with a free trial on Britannica.com.
A liqueur is a sweet alcoholic beverage, often flavored with fruits, herbs, spices, flowers, seeds, roots, plants, barks, and sometimes cream. The word liqueur comes from the Latin word liquifacere which means "to dissolve." This refers to the dissolving of the flavorings used to make the liqueur. Liqueurs are not usually aged for long periods, but may have resting periods during their production to allow flavors to marry.
In some parts of the world people use the words cordial and liqueur interchangeably. Though in these places the two expressions both describe liqueurs made by redistilling spirits with aromatic flavorings and are usually highly sweetened, there are some differences. While liqueurs are usually flavored with herbs, cordials are generally prepared with fruit pulp or juices. Most liqueurs are noticeably sweet.
Liqueurs date back centuries and are historical descendants of herbal medicines, often those prepared by monks, as Chartreuse or Bénédictine. Liqueurs were made in Italy as early as the 13th century and their consumption was later required at all treaty signings during the Middle Ages.
Today, liqueurs are made worldwide and are served in many ways: by themselves, poured over ice, with coffee, mixed with cream or other mixers to create cocktails, etc. They are often served with or after a dessert. Liqueurs are also used in cooking.
Some liqueurs are prepared by infusing certain woods, fruits, or flowers, in either water or alcohol, and adding sugar or other items. Others are distilled from aromatic or flavoring agents. The distinction between liqueur and spirits (sometimes liquors) is not simple, especially since many spirits are available in a flavored form today. Flavored spirits, however, are not prepared by infusion. Alcohol content is not a distinctive feature. At 15-30%, most liqueurs have a lower alcohol content than spirits, but some liqueurs have an alcohol content as high as 55%. Dessert wine, on the other hand, may taste like a liqueur, but contains no additional flavoring.
There are many categories of liqueurs including: fruit liqueur, cream liqueur, coffee liqueur, chocolate liqueur, schnapps liqueur, brandy liqueur, anise liqueur, nut-flavoured liqueur, and herbal liqueur.
Anise liqueurs have the interesting property of turning from transparent to cloudy when added to water: the oil of anise remains in solution in the presence of a high concentration of alcohol, but crystallizes out when the alcohol concentration is reduced.
Layered drinks made by floating different-coloured liqueurs in separate layers are attractive. Each liqueur is poured slowly into a glass over the back of a spoon or down a glass rod, so that the liquids of different densities remain unmixed, creating a striped effect.