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Liqueurs That Bartenders Should Know

The Cure for Liqueur

It simply is not possible to list all the liqueurs available in this space.  Liqueurs are different from liquors.  Liquors are generally derived from grains, canes and potatoes, and are unsweetened.  Liqueurs are derived from fruits, spices, herbs and sweetened with sugars.

Some people call them cordials, but that word has been usurped from its original meaning of “sweet, fruit-flavored, non-alcoholic drink concentrate”, so I don’t use it and avoid arguments.  It is much like how the word chauvinism was changed from “aggressive, zealous patriotism” to an equivalent of “misogyny”.

In any case, of the dozens upon dozens of liqueurs available, there are a few that are really important to keep at your bar.

  • Absinth is a very strong Anise flavor, used in quantities of three or four drops in a Mile High Manhattan. It is easy to overpower a drink with it, so if you’re worried, use Sambuca or Galliano
  • Tia Maria a strongly flavored coffee liqueur which is very sweet and syrupy.
  • Amaretto is almond flavored. It is often paired with coffee liqueurs such as Tia Maria or rum in the Café Caribbean.
  • Curacao is essential for many colorful drinks, especially Blue for Romulan Ale, which is one part Bacardi 151, one part Everclear® Alcohol, and one part Blue Curacao, rendering 143 proof.
  • Irish Cream (many varieties) is great on its own, but useful for Ghostbusters on Hallowe’en with its eerie green color and ghost shapes. (One part Peach Schnapps, one part Melon liqueur, and 3-5 drops of Irish cream liqueur.  Opaque Brown bottle, tall thin neck.
  • Galliano, herbal, but with two kinds on anise, in a distinctive tall, narrow, conical bottle with a vivid yellow color.
  • Triple Sec/Cointreau (clear tall bottle/short, squat, square, brown bottle) when you need an orange flavor.
  • Averna an Italian bitter liqueur of herbs, rinds and roots with caramel added. Required for Belle of the Ball and the Happily Ever After Cocktail
  • Benedictine herbs and roots in Cognac for the traditional Milk & Honey or B&B with its big waxy seal so it’s easy to spot this green (sometimes brown) bottle that looks more suited to Chianti.
  • Chartreuse made from 130 herb, plants, and flowers from the Swiss Alps comes in green (110 proof) and yellow (86 proof) varieties. Used in innumerable drinks.  Clear bottle with metallic green or yellow label.
  • Frangelico, often served straight, is hazelnut based with chocolate and vanilla notes. Essential for the R.F.O. Cocktail, and the Friar Tuck.  Brown bottle designed to resemble a friar in his habit, including the rope tied around the waist.
  • Hpnotiq, pronounced “hypnotic” is vodka, cognac and a proprietary secret blend of tropical fruit juices. It is pale blue-opaque liquid in a champagne-look bottle, that adds light fruity flavors to cocktails.
  • Crème De Menthe (white or green), De Cacao, de Cassis and De Banana
  • Goldschläger (cinnamon schnapps) with real gold flakes inside. Clear Bottle, no label, painted lettering, squat with tall, thin neck.
  • Peach Schnapps for the Fuzzy Navel, and every other kind flavored Schnapps.
  • Jagermeister with its herbal, spice and citrus aroma, is very popular for shooters.
  • And of course, essentials such as: Kahlua, Sloe Gin, Southern Comfort, Pernod, Metaxa, Grand Marnier, Drambuie, Cointreau, Cherry Brandy, Fireball, Ouzo, Yukon Jack, and Sour Puss Apple.


If you get a chance, with a clean palate, taste a dram (⅛ of a teaspoon) or two of the various liqueurs so that you’re familiar with their flavors.  Have some time between tastes or they’ll become a meaningless jumble.  If you’ve never tasted them how will you ever know how to blend them?